Special Rec. Association Seeks Grant Money for New Lenox Building
The grant application was submit in late November, but the Lincoln-Way Special Recreation Association is still collecting letters to support for the building.
Keith Wallace, recreation superintedent for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, showed up to a gym Tuesday evening hoping he could get a spot for the wheelchair basketball team to practice.
"No one reserved this gym tonight so I was on pins and needles to see if we could even get in," Wallace said after setting up the practice at Lincoln-Way Central High School. "We do what we can with the little we have. The high schools and other places have graciously donated their space, but we want to give people with special needs a place to call home."
The team typically practices at Central on Tuesday nights, but without a building of its own, the Special Recreation Association uses other spots for its programs and practices. Space is tight and participation is growing, so the association is seeking a $2.5 million state grant for park districts so it can build its own recreation center in New Lenox.
The association serves people with special needs from the Frankfort, Manhattan, Mokena, New Lenox and Peotone park districts. It submitted a grant application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in late November for a 24,000-square-foot building that would be on land donated by the New Lenox Park District in the Heather Glen subdivision off Laraway Road.
The planned recreation center would cost about $4.1 million total, and the Special Recreation Association has been saving money for about 10 years, so it would be able to cover the rest of the cost if it gets the $2.5 million grant, which is part of a pool of $25 million given out in these grants.
The building would be constructed with special attention for the association's participants, which parents say is something they don't get anywhere else for their children. It would include a wheelchair-friendly gym and classrooms, a teaching kitchen and other accessible features.
"There's a lot more to their care and daily maintenance than most people would think," said Erika Holliday, whose son Aaron plays on the wheelchair basketball team. "Most buildings are 'we'll make it fit for you,' but this is 'we'll design it for you.' They're thinking what the needs are for our children, which you normally wouldn't see in a regular recreation complex. Our kids deserve the same opportunities that their peers have."
Lana Graser, the Special Recreation Association's executive director, said nearly 300 park districts applied for grant money, but she's hopeful they'll hear good news by April because it's one — if not the only — special recreation association to apply. In the meantime, she's collecting letters of support and sending them to the Department of Natural Resources to show a need for the center. She estimates that about 30 have been sent so far.
The New Lenox community has shown its support for a center, with the land donation and other leaders backing the cause. Mayor Tim Baldermann visited the basketball team in November to shoot around with them, and he said the recreation center would be a nice addition for the community.
"We have an obligation to look out for the welfare of all people," Baldermann said. "And people with special needs who need special attention, it'd be great for them to have that building. I hope the Park District is successful getting the grant."
Graser said the association serves at least 200 participants from the area, but the need and interest in new and existing programs is growing. She said there have been times when a program is full, but they've been able to work creatively to make space or find another program of interest to a participant.
"We want to be able to offer everything and not turn away," Graser said. "We have to grow with the need."