By Bob Uphues
Eight months after buying a distressed property at 3734 Grand Blvd. in Brookfield, Community Support Services is set to open CSS Academy on Aug. 12, providing programs for not only their own clients, who are intellectually and developmentally disabled, but for everybody.
CSS Academy is a brand new concept for the social service agency, which will continue its longtime mission of providing support to families of disabled children and helping train families to advocate for their children in public schools.
The academy was born during the agency's 2012 strategic planning process, which sought ways to heighten the organization's public profile. Community Support Services bought the building, which was in foreclosure, for $225,000 last November.
"We asked ourselves how we can be more visionary and progressive," said Diane Farina White, president/CEO of Community Support Services. "We've been around for 32 years, and people don't know who we are. Part of it is also marketing ourselves."
Community Support Services has been raising its profile in recent years in order to bolster revenues in the face of shrinking state funding for social service agencies. In 2008, the agency opened a for-profit doggy daycare/training facility in Burr Ridge called the Chicago Canine Club.
Then in 2010, they opened the Beth Lacey Center in Cicero, which provides bilingual services and emphasizes helping families with intellectually and developmentally disabled children navigate the public school system.
CSS Academy occupies 4,000 square feet of space across two storefronts, which have been united by opening the wall between them. Right now the spaces appear pretty Spartan, but that's kind of the point. Both spaces can be configured to accommodate any of the 30 classes that will be going on each week — from cooking classes to computer classes to life skills training to self-defense and exercise classes.
"The goal is to make sure the tangible things that take place here can transfer to home," said Necole Smith, the director of CSS Academy.
The opening between the two main classroom areas can be closed to separate them, or opened to provide room for larger events, such as the CSS ribbon-cutting held July 25. With the exception of kitchen appliances and a couple of built-in cabinets, everything is moveable.
Farina White said CSS Academy is also exploring partnering with the Brookfield recreation department and the other nearby recreation departments that comprise a recreation co-op to share space. Such a relationship can also help expand the agency's client base.
Some of the programs offered in CSS Academy's first course catalog indicate that the organization has already begun to make connections with the local community. A five-session floral arranging workshop, which is open to all, is being run by Chris Borzym, of Christopher Mark Flowers, located just down the block.
Farina White says the first year of the academy will likely be a learning experience, and that it will rely on a lot of word-of-mouth advertising at the outset.
"We hope providing excellent service will speak for itself," Farina White said.
More information on CSS Academy, including a course catalog and online registration for classes, is available at www.CSSservices.org.