About three times a week, Rey Neris, 23, a deaf man with special needs, catches a cab to Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
Once landed, Neris flies down the stairs to the lower-level location of SEASPAR (South East Association for Special Parks and Recreation).
There, he happily perches with his EAGLES (Enhancing Adult Growth through Lifestyle, Education and Service) pals.
Neris joined in the community-based therapeutic recreation program for adults with special needs two years ago, when he aged out of Riverside-Brookfield High School’s transition program.
Most days, Neris says he jokes around with friends in the nontraditional classroom, prior to embarking on daily field trip treks into the community to explore it or engage in organized volunteerism.
“Sometimes, I like EAGLES,” he quips through Joelle Szyszka, a staffer who has learned sign language.
Through her hands and voice, Neris added, “I like to talk with friends, and go to the park to walk and play basketball.”
Other times, he says, he goes on group shopping trips to Target, does 5K fun runs, and in September the group did its annual staff-led overnight camping trip.
“When Rey first started, someone from the high school’s transition program came in and helped him get integrated into what we are doing here,” said Dawn Krawiec, SEASPARS’ program manager at the Brookfield EAGLES site. “Since then, a bunch of our staff have learned sign language, so we can chit chat with Rey, which has added another layer to our program, and has been pretty neat.”
Sarah Cavanaugh, 27, of LaGrange Park, is a young woman who is living with an intellectual disability, and among her EAGLES fan base, a burgeoning rap star.
“I have been going through really tough times. I have been giving him so many chances. Oh, I have a lot of friends who care for me. But, my friends are bugging me so much. I need my space sometimes,” was a new rap she recently performed as she navigated the emotions of having an ex-boyfriend. “I have headphones, so I listen to rap music on the bus, in the hair salon, when I am on a plane. When I am here, I say to myself, OK I am at EAGLES, and we’re going to rap today.”
With the aim of serving adults with special needs, age 21 to 35, EAGLES took off in Darien in 2008, spread its wings into Brookfield in 2011, and created a third EAGLES site in Lisle in 2014.
“We go to Brookfield Zoo, to baseball games, theater, movies, grocery shopping trips to purchase items for lunch, and sometimes to Paisans for its pizza buffet, because they do give us a good deal” said Krawiec, adding she is always on the lookout for more ways her 12 “guys can give back through volunteering with the park district, small businesses and other organizations,” she said.
For Cavanaugh, being in EAGLES is allowing her to embrace her ability to be creative.
“When I am at home, I like to sit on my butt and watch TV,” said Cavanaugh, who is also a part-time worker at Mariano’s in Westchester. “My mom said that you need to go outside and get busy. So, now I am busy at EAGLES. EAGLES is awesome, it’s rockin’ out. Go SEASPAR EAGLES!”