workNet DuPage Helps Easterseals Safely Reopen
Spend a few minutes on the Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley website and we guarantee you’ll be inspired. Read about Julian, born three months premature and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and discover how he made friends and gained independence. Meet smiling Hazel who struggled to walk, because of Angelman Syndrome, but went on to gain mobility and attend kindergarten.These are just two examples amongst thousands: life-altering changes made possible by Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, the local affiliate of the longest running organization of its kind.
For more than 75 years, Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, headquartered in Villa Park with clinics in Naperville, and Elgin, has delivered critical support enabling people with developmental delays and disabilities to live their best lives. The affiliate, founded by volunteers in 1942, provides pediatric medical rehabilitation to more than 1,000 people each week, mostly infants and children. The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to bring Easterseals’ remarkable history to a screeching halt. When Governor Pritzker announced the “stay at home order,” three centers shut down and the organization transitioned 65 percent of its clients to tele-therapy; however, not all services adapted to the new medium.
workNet DuPage entered the picture, becoming a lifeline. Executive Director Lisa Schvach applied for layoff aversion funding through the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity enabling Easterseals and more than 20 other DuPage small businesses and nonprofits to make necessary modifications and prevent layoffs. Easterseals utilized the grant dollars to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and technological services. The support allowed the organization to continue its legacy and serve clients like Julian and Hazel. The necessary PPE proved critical to safely reopen in mid-May. “As an organization serving a vulnerable population, we need to be extremely conscientious. Without the appropriate masks, shields, and gowns, our staff would not have been able to come back. Literally, we would not have been able to open without it,” says CEO & President Theresa Forthofer. Baby boomers might remember receiving Easter “seals” in the mail, while Gen Xers and millennials may recall all-day infomercials. People might not realize, however, the Easterseals’ network across the country functions independently without financial support from the national umbrella. Each affiliate pays national dues and operates as an independent 501c3 with its own board, fundraising responsibilities, and business operations. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, affiliates were on their own.To operate the three centers, Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley employ a staff of 130 people including 70 plus therapists specializing in pediatric rehabilitation. “By opening up as early as we did and because now we offer both in-person and teletherapy sessions, we’re grateful we could avoid layoffs,” says CEO & President Theresa Forthofer. Over the course of the grant process, workNet DuPage and Easterseals developed a mutual admiration. “It is always an honor to help an organization access programs that strengthen their workforce and avoid downsizing, but I am extra grateful for the opportunity to assist Easterseals,” says workNet DuPage Business Services Specialist Jessica Barkwill. “These individuals provide services that have a transformative impact on children, families, and our community, and the need for those services does not stop in the face of a pandemic. Easterseals is determined to ensure their clients and employees remain safe and healthy, and workNet DuPage is determined to support them however we can.” "You guys are awesome to work with. Working with workNet DuPage feels like a collaboration. It’s been really a wonderful experience” said Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley CEO & President Theresa Forthofer. When families go to Easterseals, whether through virtual or physical doors, the organization nurtures dreams, “the dream to walk, talk and live as independently as possible.” workNet DuPage feels proud to support critical organizations like Easterseals and help make those dreams a reality.