By Julie Workman
In 1919, Ohio businessman Edgar Allen lost his son in a streetcar accident. Frustrated by the lack of medical services available to save his child, Allen sold his business and started a fundraising campaign to build a hospital in his hometown.
Allen soon discovered that children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. It became his mission to bring them into the light, and in 1919, he founded the National Society for Crippled Children, the first organization of its kind.
At the same time, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Easton began the Crippled Children’s Clinic in Downtown Peoria and started seeing children with disabilities once a week. The clinic grew with the support of the Crippled Children’s Coordinating Committee.
In the spring of 1934, local newspaper cartoonist JH Donahey designed the first “seal,” to help with the National Society for Crippled Children’s inaugural fundraising campaign. Donors placed these seals on their correspondence to help raise awareness and money for the organization. In 1936 the Crippled Children’s Coordinating Committee in Central Illinois began selling the seals as well. By 1967, the “seal” was so well recognized, the organization formally adopted the name “Easter Seals.”
Today, Easterseals is America’s largest nonprofit healthcare organization, serving more than 1.4 million people with disabilities and their families each year.
Easterseals Central Illinois has grown as well, from a once-a-week clinic to 6 locations, serving 5,800 families across Central Illinois every year.
In 2019, Easterseals celebrates 100 years of impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities or other special needs, their families, and communities throughout America as a powerful advocate and leading provider of innovative services.
Back in March at their annual telethon, Easterseals Central Illinois announced their vision for the next century of service, to create a world where every child is 100% Included, 100% Empowered.
“Through the year, our team has made a concentrated effort to define exactly what ‘100% inclusion’ and ‘100% empowered’ really means for the children and families we serve,” said Cathy Oloffson, Vice President of Development, McLean County for Easterseals Central Illinois. “For more than 100 years, the Easterseals approach has been to serve the whole family, not just the person with special needs. Beyond our core therapy and clinical services, we host workshops for siblings, provide camping and recreation services, and family support/care coordination services. We work to meet the needs of our families locally so that they can access these services in their community.”
In addition to Oloffson’s development and community relations efforts, Easterseals of Central Illinois has a community advisory board to help set goals and priorities for the organization. “We are very thankful for the support of leaders in the Bloomington-Normal community,” adds Oloffson.
A lesser-known service provided by Easterseals Central Illinois is its fully inclusive, 160-acre camp located on Lake Bloomington in Hudson, IL. “Timber Pointe offers an experience like no other for our clients, and it is, perhaps, the best example of our commitment to 100% inclusion and empowerment,” she says.
“While most of our services go to children from birth to age 21, there are no age limits at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center. Campers love it because they don’t ‘feel different’ when they’re at camp. The focus is always on what they can do. It’s just like any other sleep-away camp, but here, every activity is accessible for any camper who wants to participate. The ripple effect is the transference of courage—the kids come away thinking, ‘If I can zipline, I can do anything!’ Oloffson says.
Timber Pointe Outdoor Center is also supported by the Timber Pointe Foundation, which focuses on supporting capital projects and improvements around the camp.
“The sense of inclusion and empowerment is growing in our community,” she continues. “Miracle League baseball and the recent opening of Harmony Park are shining examples of the progress our community is making.”
Continuing the theme of inclusion and empowerment, the therapists and staff at Easterseals work to build relationships with each of the families that they serve. The families appreciate those relationships and services so much that lots of times, they’re willing to help long after their children age out of the core programs. Families continue to volunteer, many times for the rest of their lives.
“The families who’ve used our services are some of our strongest advocates,” Oloffson says. “One family independently arranged a fundraiser called Rock the Farm. It started several years ago and now hosts thousands of people each year. Rock the Farm has brought awareness of Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) and Easterseals to so many. During the summer, when we have campers at Timber Pointe, homeowners in the Lake Bloomington Area host the Wednesday Night Yacht Club for us. They bring their pontoon boats over and take our campers out on boat rides. The community support is truly overwhelming,” says Oloffson
In addition to caring volunteers, successful fundraising is essential for Easterseals. “Our annual telethon is our highest-profile fundraiser,” Oloffson explains, “but we have many others. Our annual Grape Soiree has been a popular event. Walk With Me, our summer event at ISU’s Hancock Stadium, draws hundreds of families and volunteers every year. We work hard to be good stewards of all those donations. Over 86 cents of every dollar donated goes directly back into our programs.”
The organization is also working hard to create partnerships with like-minded groups that will help them reach their goals of 100% inclusion and 100% empowerment. The “Growing Together” campaign, a collaboration with the YMCA of Bloomington, is one such success story.
When construction is complete, Easterseals will be a tenant in the new YMCA of Bloomington facility. “Moving into the YMCA building will be a huge step toward our goal of 100% inclusion. It means our clients will walk through the same doors as others. The new YMCA building will be a natural environment for our clients since it’s a facility for everyone, not just those with special needs,” Oloffson says.
Easterseals is well-known for services that help children with physical disabilities, but Oloffson notes there’s more to the story. “We serve kids with mild speech delays and those who may only need us for three months. Others come and need life-long assistance, so we help them integrate with other agencies who can offer those specialized services.”
This year, Easterseals celebrates 100 years of impact on the lives of families living with disabilities or other special needs. This anniversary is an excellent time to reflect on the organization’s legacy of delivering equality, dignity, and independence to people with disabilities.
Locally, Oloffson says, “As Easterseals celebrates 100 years of impact in 2019, we look to the future with hope. Our goals of 100% inclusion and 100% empowerment for our families are 100% achievable, with help from our families, our volunteers, and our communities. If you haven’t had the chance to be involved before, take the chance now. Volunteer, donate and support a like-minded organization. It’s exciting to be involved in a cause bigger than yourself, and we’ve never been more excited to see what the future has in store. Join us today!”
Easterseals of Central Illinois Community Advisory Council
For more information, visit Easterseals of Central Illinois at easterseals.com/ci or 2404 East Empire Street in Bloomington or call 309-663-8275.