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Chicago: Autism day school celebrates 15yrs; serving kids from 26 districts

Oct 5, 2022, [Suburban] Chicago Daily Herald: Turning Pointe foundation celebrates 15 years of serving families dealing with autism

When Kim and Randy Wolf, Naperville parents of 9-year-old Jack, dreamed of a place where their son could learn and thrive, they never imagined that 15 years later that dream would have turned into Turning Pointe Autism Foundation, which today hosts a day school for 50 students from elementary to high school, respite services, and the Foglia Family Adult Services with supported and independent employment programs serving up to 20 adults annually.

But in 2007, based on successful interventions that had made a "life-changing" difference in their son, and helped him to progress from isolation and destructive behaviors to connectedness and an engaged future, the Wolfs recruited a board of directors made up of other families, subject matter experts and community leaders to incorporate Turning Pointe Autism Foundation as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Over the ensuing years, what began as a backyard camp for a handful of youngsters with severe autism whose needs could not be met through the public schools moved into a townhouse campus in South Naperville with programming developed and funded through a $1 million grant from the Canadian National Railroad.

By 2012, in partnership with Walgreens, Dan Wolf Auto Group, and the community, Turning Pointe moved its Therapeutic Day School into the old Naperville Sun Publications building on Ogden Avenue in Naperville. Over the years, the facility has gone from one classroom to ten, as well as three sensory rooms, an occupational therapy gym, lunchroom, staff prep and meeting area and lounge, nurse's office, and administrative offices. Today, preliminary plans are in place to expand the campus facility by developing some outdoor experiential gardens and an adapted playground.

The Therapeutic Day School for students ages 5 to 22 is now serving students from 26 school districts and is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The program offers student personalized courses similar to those they would be offered by their home school districts, but with intensive individual attention, modifications, accommodations and greater structure. Parents receive quarterly report cards and participate in conferences as well as Individual Educational Plan (IEP) meetings. Current program evaluations indicate that 81% of all students are on track to meet their IEP goals….

In 2012, when the program moved from south Naperville to Ogden Avenue, the organization began an employment readiness program alongside the Therapeutic Day School. The program would form the foundation for a more robust training and employment program to come. To date, 32 companies have hired graduates of its employment camps and college-like programs. Turning Pointe currently employees four graduates as well.

Beginning in 2013, renovations to the old Naperville Sun building began to create ideal learning spaces for students. Today, 8,500 of the 34,000 square feet of learning space has been fully remodeled. By 2015, as students began to age out of the high school program, Transitions classrooms were opened to accommodate student over the age of 18.

Community and grant support made continued growth of both programming and facilities possible, and by 2017 Turning Pointe received the first of its 4-Star Charity Navigator designations. This highest vote of confidence in fundraising would be repeated annually over the next four years. Today, 82% of Turning Pointe donations go directly to student programming….

Respite for families

In 2021, Turning Pointe's Respite Program was able to offer respite to families. "Respite is a time when our students can bond with staff while their families and be with peers in a more relaxed setting than school. Parents get time for themselves while knowing their children are in good hands," says Provenzale. "Most don't realize how isolated families can feel sometimes when providing care to their children profoundly impacted by autism. Some children are still learning how to access the community safely and appropriately."…

The Adult Day Pilot continues to grow, with partnerships and programs to help adult students gain skills-based employability training and opportunities for community-based internships. In 2021 10,809 packs of coffee were packaged and sold to support adult programming. Two Brothers added the packaging of K-Cups to their opportunities for Turning Pointe workers.

Among the first of those employees is Jack Wolf. "Jack has grown so much, he's now in the adult program, " Kim Wolfe reports. "He's a happy 24-year-old. He's living his life the way any 24-year-old should." In the independent employment program, some 65 students have gone on to independent employment over the past ten years….

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