Santa Making Sensory-Friendly Stops Statewide
Free Santa visits for children with autism and other special needs
Are you ready for some Santa magic?
Autism Speaks has partnered with Cherry Hill Programs to provide sensory-friendly Santa experiences nationwide.
In Illinois, Santa will be spreading joy and holiday cheer on Dec. 5 and 12.
Join Santa in a calmer, more subdued environment. He is planning stops in communities that include:
- Orland Park
- Vernon Hills
These sensory-friendly Santa experiences are free. Keepsake photo packages are available to buy.
You can reserve your spot for the Santa experience online. (The organizers strongly encourage reservations.)
For more upcoming holiday events for children with special healthcare needs in Illinois, be sure to check our Special Events page often.
Holiday Giving Unites DSCC Staff, Helps Families in Need
DSCC regional offices work together to provide gifts and Christmas magic to children and families in their communities.
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) team is united in our shared mission to improve the lives of children with special healthcare needs and their families.
We take pride in how each of our roles creates a more supportive community for the families we serve.
It’s no surprise that the holiday season brings out the best of our staff’s caring hearts.
This month our regional offices found ways to donate their time, resources and creativity to help local children, individuals and families in need have a wonderful Christmas.
We’re very proud of their generosity and commitment to their local communities!
Children staying at Almost Home Kids in Naperville will enjoy some extra warmth this holiday season, thanks to the generosity and creativity of our Lombard Regional Office staff.
Almost Home Kids (AHK) serves as a bridge from the hospital to family home for children with complex medical needs. It provides transitional care in a home-like setting for these children, training for their families and respite care.
Last year in honor of National Family Caregivers Month in November, the Lombard RO staff made 17 cozy fleece blankets for the children staying at AHK Naperville.
The colorful no-sew blankets were such a big hit that the Lombard team once again joined forces to create more beautiful blankets for AHK clients for the holidays.
Lombard Program Coordinator Assistant Kim Firkins delivered the blankets on Dec. 9. AHK staff said that the blankets are a great donation and the children love them.
Springfield and Central Administrative Office
To celebrate the holidays and come together as a team, our Springfield Regional Office and Central Administrative Office (CAO) was on the lookout for a hands-on way to help needy children in the Springfield community.
Compass for Kids provided the perfect fit.
Compass for Kids is a nonprofit organization that works with elementary schools in the Springfield School District to serve students who are low-income with at least one risk factor, which can include homelessness, foster care placement, a parent incarcerated, no food in the house or suspected abuse or neglect.
During the school year, Compass for Kids provides “Club Compass,” in which community partners provide a neighborhood site for one of five elementary schools.
Participating students go to the site after school once a week and receive a snack, a social/emotional curriculum, 30 minutes for homework time and then a life skill from the community. Club Compass students also fill their backpack with breakfast, lunch and dinner items to get them through the weekend, since many depend on their school for regular meals.
When the Springfield/CAO staff learned that Blackhawk Elementary School’s Club Compass site was in need of a holiday party sponsor, they jumped at the opportunity to help.
Our team committed to planning party activities and providing gifts to the site’s 21 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
The Springfield/CAO office collected donations and raised nearly $600 to provide at least three gifts, including Lego sets, baby dolls, games, journals, action figures, as well as gloves and hats for each student.
Nine DSCC staff members attended the party on Dec. 18 and planned activity stations, including a snowball toss, building a toilet paper snowman and ornament crafts. They also arranged for Santa to come to the party and hand out gifts to each child.
Our staff had just as much fun as the kids. The team was truly grateful for the opportunity to help spread a little Christmas magic to these very deserving children.
The holidays have been especially busy for our Mokena Regional Office.
Their staff moved into a new office location this month. But, they still made time to give hundreds of our participant families a wonderful Christmas.
In November, the Mokena Regional office received 200 “care bags’ from Family Focus Aurora. Family Focus is a non-profit that aims to promote the well-being of children from birth by strengthening families in and with their communities.
Mokena Program Coordinator Assistant Leslie Ruelas has a contact at Family Focus and told the organization about DSCC’s program. Family Focus Aurora donated 200 of the “care bags” they had received from another non-profit, Second Bridge, to the Mokena office.
These backpacks were filled with books, toys, personal care items, school supplies, water bottles and blankets for children ages birth to 14.
Our Mokena staff sorted and organized the backpacks. They then handed out the bags to DSCC families throughout South Cook and Will County.
Our families were overjoyed to receive these items.
But the Mokena team’s efforts didn’t stop there. They wanted to provide toys to as many participant families in need as possible.
Staff researched options and became a partner organization with Toys for Tots in Joliet. Through the program, the Mokena RO received toys for more than 125 children.
The team has enjoyed making deliveries in the week leading up to Christmas.
The Champaign Regional Office’s holiday giving project will extend far beyond the holidays, bringing joy to local children throughout the year.
The Champaign RO staff learned from local teachers, social workers and child welfare staff that many families in Champaign can’t afford to celebrate their child’s birthday.
“We thought it would be a good idea to compile necessary items, fill gift bags, and allow a local agency to provide them to children/families in need,” Care Coordinator Dan Beagles said.
The Champaign team started collecting gift bags to fill will the following items:
- Cake mix
- Birthday card
- Birthday hats
- Various party favors
Champaign staff partnered with CASA (Court Appointment Special Advocates) of Champaign County to help identify children and distribute the bags.
“CRO staff was very generous with their donations, and we were able to put together our first batch of 10,” Dan said. “We hope to continue this project throughout the year if more families are identified.”
Our Olney Regional Staff consistently puts in extra effort to help families in need. The holidays are no exception.
The Olney team has a long-standing tradition of sponsoring a local family for Christmas. This year they purchased gifts for a family of three.
Olney staff also host a small get-together for its cleaning crew each year. During the gathering, they present them with a bag of goodies such as gift cards, hats, gloves and more.
In addition to these wonderful efforts, our Olney staff was able to give more of their time and contributions to help a participant family in need.
Last week, they received a call from a participant’s mother who needed last-minute help to buy Christmas gifts. The mom had saved for Christmas but had to use these savings to pay an unexpected bill.
The mom called the Olney Regional Office because she knew her Care Coordinator would be able to help. At this time, the local organizations were not taking any new names for their giving tree programs.
Determined to help this family, several Olney staff members decided to buy for this child out of their own pockets.
At our Rockford Regional Office, Care Coordinator Audrey Ballard and Program Coordinator Assistant Adriana Londono coordinated their participation in the Adopt an Angel Project.
Adopt an Angel provided gifts to roughly 2,000 Rockford-area children this year through charities including Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’ Children Community Services.
The Rockford RO partnered with Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley and adopted 15 children that are currently in foster care in the Rockford region.
The staff could choose a child to shop for based off of their wish list. Items requested ranged from luggage and bed linens to dinosaurs and Barbie clothes. They set a budget of $20-$25 to help spread a little holiday cheer for children who may not receive much this year.
“The generosity and enthusiasm the Rockford office put in supplying these gifts for our adopted angels was truly heartwarming,” Audrey said. “Everyone that participated went above and beyond what was requested of them.”
The Peoria Regional Office put their heads together to figure out a different way to spread holiday cheer than in years past.
Instead of an office gift exchange or Secret Santa, the office planned a week of fun activities, such as a hot chocolate bar, making an ornament, hors d’oeuvres and a cookie exchange.
Most importantly, the celebration included a gift donation to our troops overseas. Autumn Fickes from PRO-Core has a son, Taylor, who is currently deployed with the U.S. Army overseas.
The PRO staff asked Taylor and his friends to provide a gift list, and Autumn made a Giving Tree with ornaments for each requested item. Peoria staff then collected items to put in a solider care package to arrive in time for Christmas at their base.
“A big thank you to everyone for their generosity and for remembering those separated from their families during the holidays,” Care Coordinator Meg Tomlins said.
This fall, our St. Clair Office started collecting hats, scarves and gloves for East St. Louis School District students in need.
Their team has collected at least 19 hats and 40 pairs of gloves.
St. Clair’s staff also united to show support for Care Coordinator Pam Wear’s husband, Brian, who is currently deployed overseas. They collected various snacks and comfort items to make a holiday care package.
The Marion Regional Office worked together to collect food items for Herrin House of Hope. Area churches, business and residents sponsor this organization to help low-income individuals and families meet their basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter.
Marion staff filled two large boxes with items including cereal, noodles, stuffing, and instant mashed potatoes, so southern Illinois families will have sufficient food over the holidays.
For more photos from our holiday giving projects, visit our Facebook page.
DSCC Staff Spread Holiday Cheer to Families in Need
DSCC regional offices pitch in to provide gifts and Christmas magic to local families.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC), we all share a common goal to help improve the lives of children with special healthcare needs and their families. This commitment often extends into the greater communities we serve and the organizations we partner with throughout the state.
This holiday season, the staff at several of our regional offices donated their time, resources and creativity to make sure local children in need have Christmas gifts and priceless memories. We’re proud of all of their hard work to be great community partners!
Mokena Regional Office
At our Mokena Regional Office, staff transformed their conference room into the North Pole to host their first “Pictures with Santa” event on Dec. 13.
The man in the red suit stopped by to visit with a small group of our participant families and pose for pictures.
One of the families shared it was the first time their children got to meet Santa. Previous attempts were either too difficult or impossible because their child was frequently in the hospital.
Both families went home with a donated toy and our calendar and coloring books.
Lombard Regional Office
Each year during the holidays, the building that houses our Lombard RO displays Christmas wreaths with tags attached. The tags have wishes on them from a boy or girl in the community whose family needs assistance.
Wishes range from makeup bags and books to items that they truly need, such as diapers and coats.
To help make these wishes come true, the Lombard Social Committee organized a silent auction on Nov. 28. The committee asked staff to donate any unused or gently-used items they had at home.
The auction raised $75, providing enough funds to fulfill the wishes for five children.
Rockford Regional Office
The Winnebago/Boone Foster Care Alliance is a collaboration of agencies that provide services to children in need in the community. Each year, the alliance organizes the “Adopt-An-Angel” project to provide Christmas gifts to local foster children and children involved with welfare services.
Our Rockford RO staff partnered with two of their building neighbors, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Guardianship Advocacy, to purchase gifts for these local “angels” this year.
Participating staff selected a tag for a foster child that included their name, age, gender and three gift ideas based on the child’s interests.
Rockford Regional Manager Shannon Jones said the original goal was to purchase gifts for 15 children. But, thanks to everyone’s generosity, the Rockford RO and their partners were able to provide gifts for 20.
“DSCC and the other state agencies within the RRO’s building have been participating in this program for over 10 years now, and it has been a great opportunity for everyone to come together to give back to the community we serve,” Shannon said.
Olney Regional Office
The Olney RO team recently had a “wrapping party” to benefit a special local family in need.
For the last several years, Olney staff have participated in the Adopt-a-Family program through the Good Samaritan of Richland County.
This year’s adopted family recently moved to the area for a fresh start. The single mom has three children, ages 2 to 12.
The program gave Olney staff a list of the family’s needs with clothing sizes, shoe sizes and so on.
The Olney team split up the shopping duties and brought in all of the purchased gifts for a wrapping party.
The gifts will be delivered to the family this week.
Despite everything on this mom’s plate, she won’t have to worry about giving her children a memorable Christmas morning.