Today we’d like to introduce you to Gerry Beagles.
Gerry, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I personally have been hanging out with and assisting individuals with developmental disabilities for over 45 years! My heart and future was changed when at the age of 16 I was asked to volunteer at a SPRED (Special Religious Education Program) at a nearby parish. The focus of the program was to celebrate the goodness and giftedness of the children and adults with disabilities that attended so that they would have a sense of God’s love for them. In my puffed up ego mind I found myself thinking how lucky the participants were going to be to have stud muffin Gerry Beagles spending time with them. I quickly experienced how the individuals that were attending the program were filled with such joy and unconditional regard that I was the one being nurtured by the experience. Every Wednesday evening, I couldn’t wait to get to the program, and I soon realized that the focus of my studies when I attended college would be special education. And as they say, the rest is history!
The last 14 years of my career has been as the Executive Director of Garden Center Services, which has been supporting persons with developmental disabilities and their families for over 61 years! What started as a classroom organized and overseen by a group of volunteers in a donated space above the garages at Reavis High School has blossomed into a multi-program agency that strives to promote the skills, dignity, and personhood of each of the individuals that attend our programs.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There certainly have been a number of bumps in the road and challenges during the 45 years that I have been in the field, some of which are still very present today. Having individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities simply accepted and not discriminated against was a constant struggle early in my career, and is still a problem we are working on. I can remember many meetings in city council chambers where I dealt with the fear and anger from parents and home owners because they were so opposed to having group homes for persons with disabilities in their neighborhoods because of the THREAT these people would bring to their children and property values! Thank goodness there is more acceptance now, but we can still experience pockets of resistance. Obviously providing quality services in the state of Illinois is a monumental problem due to the inadequate resources that are targeted by our legislature for this purpose. We have been underfunded for years and not having a state budget has had a large negative impact on social service providers who are struggling to keep their doors open.
Please tell us about Garden Center Services.
Currently GCS provides training/educational/work/volunteer experiences for 150 participants through its two community-based day programs, with one located in the Burbank community, and the other located in Mt. Greenwood! From this group that attends our day program services, we have 76 adults that are assisted 24/7 in homes throughout the surrounding communities.
The individuals served by GCS become involved with their community by volunteering to help with any projects or initiatives in their area. They’ve collaborated on such projects as Meals on Wheels, the Ronald McDonald House, the Chicago Food Depository, and the Oak Lawn Children’s Museum, to name a few.
According to its mission statement, GCS is “committed to supporting and empowering persons with developmental disabilities through innovative and person-center services. Our commitment to the excellence of our programs is surpassed only by our devotion to the people we serve and the communities in which they live.” Underlying all that we do at GCS is helping our program participants to find their own voice, and then using that voice to communicate who they are and what they want in their lives!
The center’s Day Program Services provide a safe, supportive, and stimulating environment where GCS participants find a real sense of community while being guided by the dedicated staff to enhance those skills that will bring them the satisfaction and self-assurance they strive for.
In our program environments and community-based settings, individuals can focus on their personal goals related to vocational training, life skills enhancement, or real work-for-pay opportunities. To meet these objectives the agency has invested in the development of a thoughtfully designed, multifaceted curriculum that draws on the interests and input of persons we serve.
As mentioned, employees from the agency provide the assistance for a number of individuals to live in a home they share with their peers. The staff feels that it is a privilege, and a serious commitment, to accept the responsibility of working with an individual to assist him or her with the dream of living in their own home. It is their belief that these homes need to be a part of the fabric of the neighborhoods in which they are located.
GCS provides safe and secure environments that facilitate the persons living there to explore the five valued life experiences as described by John O’Brien: sharing ordinary places; growing in relationships; making choices, contributing, and being respected.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My original mentors regarding caring for others, especially those that are marginalized or oppressed, would have to be my mom and dad. A 16-year-old girl named Kathy that attended the SPRED program due to her severe cerebral palsy was the primary person that awed me by the joy and compassion she exhibited. I had some good profs in college and colleagues at my various jobs that certainly enhanced my understanding and skills related to working in this field. My wife, friend, and partner Cindy, who also has been in the field for many years, has been a powerful influence and cheerleader for the cause we both love. But ultimately, it is the many persons with disabilities and their families, that have been my strongest teachers and supporters. Words cannot express the gratitude and love I have for them.
- Address: 10444 S. Kedzie, Chicago, IL 60655
- Website: www.GardenCenterServices.org
- Phone: 773-941-4151 EXT. 201
- Email: email@example.com