Good Shepherd Center was founded in 1963, at a time when children with developmental disabilities were not provided with needed educational opportunities until the age of 7.
Louise Schweinfurth, our Founder as a member of the first graduating class of Early Childhood education students at the prodigious Erickson Institute knew that children with developmental disabilities should receive an education at an earlier age and their families should be provided with extra support to insure better academic success in their future.
“It made me angry that children with disabilities were being discriminated against and I thought someone had to do something about it and we had to begin while the children were younger,” Louise shared.
Once she decided that this goal would be her mission, she approached her church, Good Shepherd, in Park Forest with the idea of opening the school in one of their vacant classrooms. Upon receiving their approval, Good Shepherd Center was opened to provide academic and therapeutic services for children with disabilities in a school setting.
In 1968, the school received a grant from the State of Illinois to increase the number of children served. Due to a lack of available space though, the school had to find a new home. She then approachedDr. Robert Bell, the Pastor of Flossmoor Community Church, to request space to realize the expanded dream. Pastor Bell and the congregation readily shared her mission and welcomed the school into the second floor of the church.
In the 1970’s the Federal Government passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that requires school districts to begin services for children with developmental disabilities or delays at the age of 3. Good Shepherd Center then evolved into an Early Intervention program that serves children age’s birth to 3 and their families. Through this program we provide Physical, Occupational, Speech and Developmental Therapy to improve the overall physical condition of the child, while preparing them to transition to public school Early Childhood programs most effectively.
In 1976, Louise realized that the parents of the children at the school needed an occasional break from the great responsibilities that they faced in assisting their child maximize their development. She further realized that in order to be capable to maintain their focus, they needed to reenergize themselves by going into the community without their child. So she discussed her concerns with State officials and assisted in the development of the State
In-Home Respite Care program.
In 1984, a play library program from Sweden was introduced in Evanston. Through this program families of children with developmental disabilities ages birth to 8 are able to borrow therapeutic toys that assist in maximizing a child development through “purposeful play”. After staff seen this program, it was decided that Good Shepherd Center should offer the program for families and became one of the first 4 Lekotek programs to open in the United States. Unfortunately, this program was discontinued at the agency in 2008 as the State cut the funding for the services. We continue to seek alternative funding for the program through private and foundation grants and use the toys in our inventory in the work our therapists provide in the Early Intervention program.
In 2001, Good Shepherd Center expanded its mission to include serving children without developmental disabilities. Through our Tots Together Pre-school for 2 year olds, children with and without disabilities enjoy a fun learning environment in the classroom.
In 2002, the agency entered into a collaborative effort with a group called I-CARE (Illinoisans for the Cure of Autism through Research & Education) to augment our Family Resource Center with resources for families of children within the Autistic Spectrum. Through this Resource Center we provide books, articles, tapes, and seminar information regarding typical child development and disability concerns. This Resource Center, unlike any other on the south side of Chicago provides families with the opportunity to make 1 phone call to access any needed service or gather information that will best serve their child.
In 2006, the agency became a Community Partner program in collaboration with Illinois Action for Children. Through this program Good Shepherd Center provides training opportunities and support for every Day Care Center and Home provider in south suburban Cook county area. This training and support includes all areas of information relevant to child development with an increased ability to provide information on the care and treatment of children with developmental disabilities.
In 2008, we initiated the provision of our Parent Institute Day event. This event was developed to provide parents; childcare workers and educators with needed educational and support information that targets topical issues regarding children with and without developmental disabilities. The goal of the program is to assist caregivers in becoming more aware of current issues and raise their confidence in their ability to face these challenges. We provide up to 25 sessions for our English speaking audience and 15 sessions for our Spanish speaking audience, as well as exhibitors and sponsors that present goods and services to support the needs of children. In 2012 we changed the name of this conference to Strong Children ~ Strong Communities as the conference has grown to include Educators, and Child Care professionals so we wanted a name that better described the service we were offering.
Also in 2012, we began two new collaborative pilot projects. The first is the opening of a pre-school classroom for children ages 2 to 4, at the 1st Presbyterian of Chicago Heights Church Pre-School that meets each child’s needs through purposeful-play to improve developmental abilities. The second project is in collaboration with St. Xavier University, Illinois Action for Children, and Penny Lane Child Care to open Day Care slots for special needs children at the two Penny Lane Schools (Chicago Ridge & Oak Lawn). This classroom was developed with the needs of these children in mind including the layout, use of lighting, age appropriate equipment and computers. At intake, the child will be evaluated to establish an individualized program is developed and over time they will be integrated into the Centers mainstream classrooms in a fashion that will ensure success. This project was developed to assist parents of children with special needs secure high quality child care services. In coming years we hope to replicate both services in sites throughout the south suburbs
This year Good Shepherd Center shall celebrate our 50th year of providing services for children and families. We are very proud of the work that we have accomplished thus far and anxiously look forward to many more years of making a positive difference in the lives of the families we serve.