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Palatine group improves life for those with disabilities

Countryside individuals with disabilities make bracelets like these, which are sold at Whole Foods.  |  |  Laura Pavin/For Sun-Times Media
Countryside Association for People with Disabilities client Bill Basgall hands out water bottles to runners as they finish the Kildeer Fun Run 5K on Oct. 6.  |  Laura Pavin/For Sun-Times Media
Countryside Association for People with Disabilities client Bill Basgall hands out water bottles to runners as they finish the Kildeer Fun Run 5K on Oct. 6.  |  Laura Pavin/For Sun-Times Media
Countryside Association for People with Disabilities client Bill Basgall hands out water bottles to runners as they finish the Kildeer Fun Run 5K on Oct. 6.  |  Laura Pavin/For Sun-Times Media

Rather than taking it easy or getting ready for a series of televised football games, Arlington Heights resident Bill Basgall spend his Sunday morning handing out water bottles to runners as they crossed the finish line at the Kildeer Oktoberfest 5K/8K Fun Run on Oct. 6.

“I like volunteering and giving back to the community because it’s just a nice thing to do,” Basgall, 55, said as he handed a sweaty, panting runner a bottle in front of Whole Foods Market at 9:30 a.m.

Basgall, who has limited mobility in his hands and legs from severe osteoarthritis, has been a client at Countryside Association for People with Disabilities in Palatine for the past year. He’s done everything from paid work for Abbott Laboratories during the day to volunteer work in the community on the weekends.

What originally started as a school for the disabled in Lake Zurich 60 years ago has since evolved into an organization that offers training and vocational opportunities for teenagers and adults with a wide range of disabilities at both its Countryside Center in Palatine and its Lakeside Center in Waukegan.

“Most adults want to work — it’s the same for people with developmental disabilities,” said Wayne Kulick, Executive Director at Countryside. “Our primary focus is opening doors for paid opportunities for adults (with disabilities) 18 and up.”

In 2012, more than $546,000 in subcontract revenue that was generated by Countryside’s production services provided paid work to about 351 adults, and the number of paid work center hours increased to an average of 6,700 a month. The average starting hourly wage for those with disabilities is $8.90.

Basgall said that prior to Countryside, he had spent 25 years working at Resurrection Health Care in Chicago until osteoarthritis began damaging his joints to the point where he could no longer walk properly.

The Palatine center, located less than a half-mile northwest of the Whole Foods Market, has been a hidden gem in the community for people like Basgall because it offers work like bottle-labeling, packaging, light assembly and confidential document destruction that don’t put much strain on his body.

Companies like Abbott Laboratories, Cardinal Health, Quill Corporation and more than a dozen others benefitted from these types of services last year.

This year, Whole Foods Market in Kildeer began selling bracelets that individuals from Countryside made from recycled materials. Kulick said that it typically took a couple of minutes for them to make each bead of the bracelets.

“Production is once a week, and they make about 20 to 30 bracelets a week,” Kulick said. “But that’s just one of the many projects they do.”

On top of the on-site work it provided in 2012, Countryside also helped make 30 community job placements around Lake and northern Cook Counties.

Countryside’s services, however, go far beyond the scope of paid work.

“Golden Opportunities” support services, for instance, offers leisure activities for older adults with disabilities that desire more social interactions and recreational activities than they do vocational programming. “Bridging Transition,” on the other hand, offers employment transition services for high school students, ages 14 to 22, as they prepare themselves for the working world.

“We are a much better alternative for people with disabilities because we give them choices,” said Countryside Board President Andrew Richmond.

Countryside added full-time nursing and physical therapy services at its Palatine center and has made use of tablet computers to support its individuals’ communication skills this year.

The organization’s goals for 2014 include maximizing the availability of paid work at its centers and developing a microenterprise project to offer paid work alternatives, among other goals.

To help fund its continued services, Richmond said that Countryside would be hosting its 9th annual Recipe for Success benefit at The Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows on Oct. 21, featuring food and drinks from about 30 area restaurants.

For more information, visit www.countrysideassn.org.

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