After having a go at providing recreation services to those with special needs in-house, the village of North Riverside will seek to join a special recreation association that already provides those services to residents of almost a dozen other communities.

On Sept. 18, the North Riverside Village Board voted unanimously to approve the village membership in the West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA) to provide recreation programs and services to children and adults with special needs.

North Riverside Recreation Director Theresa Mrozik will serve as the village’s representative to the WSSRA board of directors. The special recreation agency’s board is expected to approve the village’s application to join on Oct. 10.

Once admitted to membership in the special recreation association, North Riverside will be able to extend program offerings after Jan. 1, 2018, which is the start of WSSRA’s fiscal year.

WSSRA also provides special recreation services to the following agencies: Berwyn Park District and North Berwyn Park District, the Park District of Forest Park, the Park District of Oak Park, River Forest Park District, the village Elmwood Park, the Hawthorn Clyde park districts in Cicero, the village of Harwood Heights, the Norridge Park District and the Park District of Franklin Park.

The cost for operating the special recreation association is shared by all of its members, based on the total value of property within a member’s jurisdiction as a percentage of the whole.

According to the membership agreement passed by the North Riverside Village Board last week, WSSRA will phase in the contribution the village must pay to be part of the agency. The agreement also states that the village is agreeing to a five-year commitment to WSSRA.

In the first year of the contract, North Riverside will pay WSSRA $34,500, which is roughly half of the standard annual membership fee. In 2019, that contribution will be $52,000, or about 75 percent of the standard fee.

In the third year of the contract, North Riverside will begin to pay its full annual share to WSSRA, about $70,000, based on the 2018 calculation.

North Riverside approached the Riverside Township Mental Health Board about potentially contributing funds in the form of a grant to the village for the purposes of paying a portion of the WSSRA member fee.

That board tabled action on the subject at their meeting last week. Mrozik said the village will move forward with its wish to be part of WSSRA regardless.

“We left it open,” said Mrozik of the talks between the village and mental health board. “Anything they felt they could consider we’d be open to. We’re still feeling things out, and I don’t think it’s going to move quickly.”

North Riverside has been talking about ways to deliver recreation services to its special needs residents for years. In 2014, Mrozik formed North Riverside Special Recreation, an in-house program with a staff of three to deliver a small number of offerings.

“We had some very basic classes, like crafts and sports,” said Mrozik. “The biggest issue we ran up against was registration. We were running the program in the red just to run the classes. When you have one or two kids in a class, even the parents get discouraged.”

Officials decided to shut down the in-house special recreation program after about a year and a half. 

WSSRA offers a wide variety of programming for both children and adults, from sports, fitness classes and swimming lessons to excursions to parks, sporting events, restaurants and shopping centers.

North Riverside also considered joining the South East Association for Special Parks and Recreation (SEASPAR). Brookfield has been a member of SEASPAR since 2007. However, many of SEASPAR’s programs are in far west and southwest suburbs, and Mrozik wanted programming closer to North Riverside.

“We wanted to make it as convenient as possible,” Mrozik said.

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