Dreams Do Come True
Shady Oaks celebrates 10 years of serving adults with developmental disabilities

Eye on LSSI, Summer 2005 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

Mickey Laird, resident, (top) gets a chance to visit with Kelly Robertson, a former Shady Oaks staff member at the anniversary celebration.“We finally did it!” Marilyn Harrington thought on July 22, 1992 — the day Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) broke ground for Shady Oaks, two intermediate-care facilities for adults with developmental disabilities in Homer Glen.

Marilyn, her husband Bob and numerous other parents of children with cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities attended the Shady Oaks groundbreaking that day with a sense of excitement — and accomplishment. Excitement because their beloved children would soon have a new place they could call home and receive the specialized care they need. Accomplishment because this dream, called Shady Oaks, was more than 20 years in the making.

Perhaps the message that best sums up the parents’ feelings that groundbreaking day was the inscription on Shady Oaks’ 10th anniversary cake — “Dreams Do Come True.”

“It was a dream we had worked for so hard that finally came into being,” Marilyn recalls. “Even though we had a lot of setbacks, we never gave up. We kept plugging along — we were determined.”

Concerned about what would happen to their children after they were no longer able to care for them, the Harringtons and several other parents came together in March 1969 to consider the possibility of building a home designed especially for their children. Each pledged $500 toward the dream of building such a facility.

Over the next 20-plus years, the group experienced a roller coaster of emotions as they encountered obstacles, including their proposal being turned down by several not-for-profit agencies. With advice from an individual at the Illinois Department of Public Health, the group approached LSSI for help. Their persistence paid off: LSSI agreed to take on the project. Actual construction started in 1993, and the first building, Shady Oaks East, was opened in May 1994. Shady Oaks West began accepting residents in October 1995.

A Heartfelt Celebration

On May 14, 2005, Shady Oaks celebrated its 10th anniversary with an outdoor party, not far from where the groundbreaking ceremony took place nearly 13 years earlier. Residents, family members and friends enjoyed the cool, sunny spring afternoon eating lunch, taking tours of the grounds, socializing and listening to speakers.

For some, the day was a reunion for parents who had known each other for decades, first meeting when their young children attended the Shady Oaks Camp for Cerebral Palsy Children, which adjoins the 10-acre Shady Oaks campus. For others, it was a day to say thank you.

Florence Bayci told the crowd she appreciated the “wonderful” care her 23-year-old son, Nicholas, receives at Shady Oaks. Nicholas, who has hydrocephalus, cannot walk, talk or see, and requires specialized care around the clock. “Shady Oaks gives me peace of mind. I can sleep at night, knowing so many people care about him,” Florence said. “I’m pleased with the amount of care — and tenderness of care — Nicholas is receiving.”

A Sense of Family

Marilyn says one of the dreams of building Shady Oaks was to “create another family” for the children. This dream has been realized.

“There is definitely is a sense of family here,” says Kristen Stockle, Shady Oaks program director. “For the residents, Shady Oaks is home.”

Stockle says Shady Oaks’ “high caliber of staff” and home-like environment help create that sense of family. “The dedication, commitment and personal investment [the staff] makes to the residents is very obvious,” she says. “They treat residents like members of their own family… nobody here is lonely.”

Beyond meeting residents’ physical needs — including bathing, shaving, dressing, feeding and dispensing medication — staff members also do special things to make life enjoyable for the 29 residents who currently live at Shady Oaks. For example, staff members have arranged, and sometimes even funded, special outings for residents. Some have brought residents to their own homes on holidays and special occasions; set up holiday gift-giving programs; invited residents to family weddings, baptisms and other celebrations; and made sure residents who have lost parents visit the cemetery on important holidays or anniversaries.

Stockle says staff members do an “excellent” job at providing emotional support — a primary need, she says — for residents. “What would strike someone, during mealtime or downtime, is the normal conversations between residents and staff,” she says. “Staff members adapt the conversations to the cognitive level of the residents. They speak to them like they are talking to a friend or family member. It’s normal, home-like.”

Cheryl Rajtar, a nurse, says residents also play a role in creating a family atmosphere at Shady Oaks. “I love the residents,” she says. “They are very caring and devoted. I give a lot to them, but they give a lot to me, too.”

Rajtar says she appreciates how residents inquire about her three children and family, or how residents occasionally call her on her days off just to say ‘Hi.’

Rajtar says while strong bonds exist between staff and residents, the residents also are close-knit. “The residents all stick together and are so loyal to each other,” she says. “If one resident is sick, they all worry.” She recalls the time a resident repeatedly refused to take a bath. Finally, she led the nurse down the hall to another resident’s room, where his pillow was mislaid and needed readjustment. Once the nurse fixed his pillow, she finally agreed to take a bath.

In Good Hands

Mary Yurchik says she is pleased with the care her husband’s cousin, Roger Froehlich, receives at Shady Oaks. Roger’s parents, like the Harringtons, worked hard years ago to establish Shady Oaks and have both passed on in recent years.

“Shady Oaks is like a family — it’s a terrific group,” Mary says. “Here Roger has quality of life — we can just come and visit without worrying about his care. Now we understand why Roger’s parents worked so hard to make Shady Oaks a reality.”

Looking back on the struggles she, her husband and many other parents encountered when trying to establish Shady Oaks years ago, Marilyn says the efforts were worth it. “A lot of parents lost hope, but those who stuck with it now say how grateful they are and how wonderful they feel about the whole situation,” she says.

Recently, Marilyn’s son, Kevin, 49, who has cerebral palsy, returned to Shady Oaks after a lengthy illness requiring hospitalization and three months of recuperation at a nursing home. When Kevin returned to Shady Oaks, residents and staff warmly greeted him. “I can’t tell you how good that made me feel,” Marilyn says. “Knowing Kevin’s at Shady Oaks, I don’t have to worry about him — he’s in good hands. I can rest knowing there are people there who love him. He’s being protected and cared for.”

For more information on Shady Oaks, call 708/301-0571, ext. 11; or visit www.LSSI.org.