winnetkacurrent.com news the winnetka current | April 12, 2018 | 11 Developing skills for meaningful lives Our Place builds on vision of Winnetka founder Alexa Burnell Freelance Reporter There is much to celebrate at Our Place — a Wilmette-based nonprofit that creates meaningful lives for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the organization, and Wilmette’s Lisa D’Angelo was recently named the new executive director. Our Place was founded in 2008 by Jane Gallery, of Winnetka. Her son, Frank, was born with a rare genetic condition, further complicated by juvenile diabetes. When he reached age 22, he was no longer eligible to receive services through the school systems, so Gallery decided to come up with a solution. “Once a person ages out of school system services, it can be awfully frightening for a parent,” Gallery said. “I searched and searched for some type of program that would work for him, but there was nothing remotely close to us. It made me think that maybe I can do something about that.” Gallery shared her frustrations and desire for change with parents in similar situations. She soon found a group of folks rallying around her. “By the end of my first day, I had 30 signatures, supporting my idea,” Gallery said. “Our original concept was to model the facility like a senior center, filled with enriching activities, a supportive staff and positive environment. Apparently, my idea was wellreceived, because before I Sara O’Keefe (left), program leader, works with Matt Mann, of Glencoe, on computer fundamentals knew it, people were donating funds, allowing me to pursue my idea.” Gallery’s next step was to present the idea to New Trier Township. She explained the importance of keeping these young adults in their own communities, where they could grow and thrive by immersing themselves in their neighborhoods. It didn’t take a hard sell to convince the Township that the idea was a good one, and they quickly granted Gallery $20,000 to put the wheels in motion. Gallery then set up shop at donated space within The Community Church of Wilmette and hired one part-time program manager, who was quickly adored by the participants. In the beginning, Our Place offered 11 hours of programming per week, but that soon turned out to not be enough for the eager participants and growing registration. Today, Our Place is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Each weekday morning, members can start their day with three hours of vocational work. Members learn valuable work and life skills from their experiences at the New Trier Township food pantry, the Glencoe Public Library, Three Crowns Park Senior Living Center and the Winnetka Thrift Shop. For the remainder of the day, members have a variety of activities to choose from. They can work out at the Wilmette Park District Center Fitness Club, play kickball or basketball at the Takiff Center through the Glencoe Park District and so much more. On Saturday nights, socials are held, where members can dance, eat pizza, play games and hang out, just as any young adult likes to do. “These opportunities integrate the members of Our Place into the surrounding communities, allowing them to socialize, develop job skills and build relationships,” D’Angelo said. “Just like anyone else, they want to feel connected to a community.” Along with bringing members out into the community, D’Angelo would like to see more volunteers coming to Our Place, one of her immediate priorities. She also wants to focus on the changing needs of the members, with hope of bringing the right type of enriching opportunities into their lives. “As Our Place celebrates its 10th anniversary, a number of our participants Winnetka’s Jane Gallery (left), founder of Wilmette’s Our Place, has some fun with Stacy Dodd, of Wilmette, while they work together Thursday, April 5, in Wilmette. Photos by Rhonda Holcomb/22nd Century Media Emily Kerzner (left), program staff member, helps Jessica Rader, of Northbrook, create some art. are now in their early 30s,” D’Angelo said. “While we continue to work closely with area high schools transitioning teens to Our Place, we also want to address the changing needs of our participants as they age. My goal is to find more opportunities for them to work and make friends.” Parents of members say the program is exceptionally unique, offering opportunities for developmentallydisabled teens and adults that are hard to come by. Laura Rader, currently of Northbrook, moved her family from St. Louis about 1 1/2 years ago, so that her daughter, Jessica, 22, could become part of the community. The experience has been nothing short of heartwarming. “What Our Place offers is just amazing,” Laura Rader said. “The staff is wonderful; they make everyone feel like equals. The programming is incredibly well-rounded, giving teens and adults, like my daughter, a meaningful and purposeful life. The environment is so positive and all who are involved become incredibly close.” To learn more about Our Place or to volunteer, visit ourplaceofnewtrier.org.