By Bob Uphues
Community Support Services, the Brookfield-based social services agency that provides help for the families of the intellectually and developmentally disabled, is planning to open a satellite location in the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard.
That location, called CSS Academy, will focus on providing educational opportunities, not just for the disabled but for all, said Diane Farina White, president/CEO of Community Support Services.
"We are going to open a community site that's integrated," said Farina White, who explained that the academy's programs will be open to those with and without intellectual/developmental disabilities.
"We see it more like a park district, with lots of programs to choose from," she said.
While the agency is still working on its plan for the academy, some types of programs being contemplated include art classes, job training, basic cooking, life skills and computer training.
Community Support Services has hired an architect to design the inside of the 4,000-square-foot facility and make it handicapped-accessible. Farina White said the agency hopes to host an open house for CSS Academy in late March or early April.
CSS Academy will operate out of two storefronts at 3734 Grand Blvd., formerly the home to a real estate office and a women's fitness center. Community Support Services purchased the property out of foreclosure from First National Bank of Brookfield for $225,000 on Nov. 30, 2012, according to records from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
The decision to purchase the property and open the center is rooted in Community Support Services' strategic plan, which was formulated during 2012 and rolled out November.
The plan is influenced greatly by dwindling support from the state for social service agencies. In order to continue its mission, CSS in recent years has moved toward expanding its ability to raise revenue on its own.
"It's all about state funding shrinking," said Farina White. "We have to be creative in how we are supporting our families."
CSS addressed that need for funding directly in 2008, when it opened its Chicago Canine Club, a for-profit doggy daycare, training and retail outlet in Burr Ridge.
Creating sources of funding has helped the agency expand its services. In 2010, CSS opened the Beth Lacey Center in Cicero, which provides bilingual services and has a special emphasis on helping train families to advocate for their intellectually and developmentally disabled children in public schools.
And in 2013, it opened CSS Academy, a hybrid location that will both provide services and serve as a way to create revenue. The location, for example, may offer CPR training to local teachers and art classes for anyone who is interested in participating.
It's also a way to integrate people with and without intellectual/developmental disabilities.
"A lot of folks we work with don't want to be secluded with folks with disabilities," said Farina White. "So we needed to open this up to the community. If there's a great art teacher, others may want to take an art class as well."
Community Support Services, whose headquarters are located on Ogden Avenue, does not provide on-site programming for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Rather, its bread and butter is providing support to their families, something termed "respite services."
Simply put, they provide relief for family members who care for their intellectually and developmentally disabled children in order to ensure that those family members continue to be excellent caregivers.
That could be one day a week or more, depending on the funding available to the families. CSS sends people out into the community, into people's homes, to provide that service.
We're with the individual, so the family can get relief and continue to be great caregivers," said Farina White.
CSS also provides job placement and has placed individuals at places like Target, Marshall's, Meijer and Talbot's. One client works at a grocery store deli counter.
"These are community-based services that help people continue to live in the community," Farina White said.