ROCHELLE — The Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District joined the Kishwaukee Special Recreation Association as a partner agency in 2016.
The organization, which works in the communities of DeKalb, Sycamore, Genoa, Sandwich and Rochelle, strives to enhance the lives of people with disabilities by cultivating diverse recreational opportunities within those areas. Among the programs KSRA offers are field trips, cooking class, bowling, a seven-week camp, parents night out, sports, dances and fitness.
"Recreation is something that is difficult sometimes for individuals because of their needs,” KSRA Executive Director Dawn Schaefer said. “But it's so important. A lot of kids and adults, anyone who is learning, learns better through play. You don't realize you're working towards a goal. Social interaction, you do that by playing games and being with your peers. All the things you learn with social emotional health.
Schaefer said KSRA works on a whole person through recreation so they don’t realize they’re working on their skills. They’re too busy having fun. KSRA also provides inclusion support for those with special needs that want to sign up for programs within the park district.
“We'd send an aid or a sign language interpreter,” Schaefer said. “I'd talk with staff on how to better organize the program. We'd work with the individual who requests the accommodation to make sure they are successful at any level they want to be within the inclusion program. We support all choices of recreation. KSRA just has more experience in working with kids and adults with disabilities so we look more in-depth into the programming."
KSRA plans to work with the park district to do a parent’s night out one Friday a month at The REC Center where youth and mid-teens will go swimming and play in the gymnasium. The three hour program is also open to siblings of those with disabilities.
In the past in Rochelle, KSRA has done a parent’s night out at Teen Town along with bowling at T-Byrd Lanes.
Maureen Stevens, superintendent of administration & finance at the park district, has been on the KSRA board for three years. She said with Flagg-Rochelle being a small district, its programs aren’t always geared specifically towards people with disabilities. KSRA’s programs and inclusion services help to accommodate those that need it.
“Instead of having to turn people away because we can't accommodate whatever disability it is that they may have, KSRA steps in and saves the day and lets them participate,” Stevens said.
Rochelle area residents can also participate in KSRA programs in the other areas it works in like DeKalb or Genoa without having to pay out-of-district fees. Stevens said she enjoys being able to broaden the park district’s reach, which doesn’t often happen.
Stevens believes the new REC facility lends itself well to special recreation. It’s one-level and wheelchairs or accessibility devices can be used on the turf. The flooring on the courts is durable.
“It opens up the door to all sorts of activities that could happen there rather than just basketball and volleyball,” Stevens said. “The pools are really nice because there are ADA-accessible lifts to get into both pools."
Schaefer agreed and said having The REC as an option is “really exciting” and she thinks it will allow KSRA to build more programs in the Rochelle area.
The pandemic “screeched KSRA to a halt,” Schaefer said. She tasked staff with keeping people involved and engaged. Some virtual programming was done. KSRA was able to bring its largest program, Camp Maple Leaf, back when guidelines allowed.
“Our parents said it wouldn't work virtually,” Schaefer said. “We had it and went the full seven weeks following guidelines with 30 kids. It was a great time. A lot of the parents were thankful the kids could get out and be around their peers."
Schaefer called the need for special recreation “wide and far-reaching.” When she started with KSRA four years ago, she spoke with all of the school districts and got the numbers of kids in special education. Not every child in special education needs KSRA’s services, but she knows based on those numbers her organization has room to grow.
“Being able to have somebody take a swimming lesson or participate in a program that they wouldn't normally be able to is huge,” Stevens said. Especially now more than ever. You don't really realize it until you're someone who is needing it or has a child who needs it. And then once you receive it, it's just a weight off your chest."