Oak-Leyden Developmental Services' choir performed at the 2022 Mighty Oak Gala. Photo Courtesy of Oak-Leyden Developmental Services

Oak-Leyden Developmental Services is hosting a fundraising campaign to create a new mental health program for its adult participants coping from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oak-Leyden, a longtime Oak Park-based nonprofit that serves adults and children with developmental disabilities in the near west Chicago suburbs, looks to bring in at least $25,000, which will be used to support a new position for a licensed clinical professional counselor to provide group and individual therapy for the adult clients.

Oak-Leyden has set up a GoFundMe account to collect donations, and the campaign runs throughout the month of June. Oak-Leyden is headquartered at 411 Chicago Ave.

Elisabeth Loren, director of development at Oak-Leyden, said people with intellectual disabilities, including those with limited verbal communication skills, depend on routine for their livelihood. They need “consistent” access to services such as seeing their doctors or therapists regularly or attending activities with friends and family, she said. And for years, Oak-Leyden has been a mainstay – until the first wave of the pandemic hit in March 2020.

We have to get this running. This is a crucial service that our clients need now

elisabeth loren

Loren told Wednesday Journal that Oak-Leyden was forced to close its day programs, which typically offered classes, clubs, field trips or volunteer opportunities, and because of limited resources was unable to create virtual options.

“For several months, we really didn’t go virtual. We did not have the technology or [the] ability to go virtual,” Loren said, noting Oak-Leyden resumed its day programs in October 2020 as Illinois slowly, cautiously reopened. Loren said Oak-Leyden maintained its community living program even during the onset of the pandemic, but clients who lived in the group homes were abruptly thrust into a new normal with their housemates and visitors, trying to grasp COVID guidelines.

All in all, the initial absence of the day programs, along with the changing COVID-19 guidelines, created a series of hurdles for clients.

“Say you were the staff member [and tested positive for COVID-19], and I was used to seeing you come in every Saturday, and now you’re not coming in. And it’s been two months, and I don’t understand why you’re not here,” Loren said, expressing the concern, worry and anxiety clients’ faced. “When [our] clients got sick [with COVID], the house would have to quarantine, but they would still need staff, which means staff moved to a live-in model.”

“[It] kind of comes down to what you’re used to every day, and all of a sudden it just immediately changes,” she continued.

While safety measures surrounding the novel coronavirus and case numbers have vastly changed in the last two years, Oak-Leyden staff is keen to the lasting effects of the pandemic on their clients’ mental health, Loren said. The hope for this new program is to give clients another tier of support. With the addition of a licensed professional counselor, Oak-Leyden aims to help provide “structured conversations” to participants and make them feel less lonely, reduce their anxiety and more motivated to stick to treatment plans, according to the GoFundMe campaign.

Loren said once the financial goal is reached, Oak-Leyden plans to start the program by July or August.

“We have to get this running. This is a crucial service that our clients need now,” she said.

Find out more

To learn more about Oak-Leyden’s new mental health program, visit www.gofundme.com and find “Support the New Mental Health Program by Oak-Leyden” in the “search” tab of the site. For more information about Oak-Leyden Developmental Services, visit www.oak-leyden.org.

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