Healthy Living

Fitness Center for Kids with Autism Breaks Ground

Fitness Center for Kids with Autism Breaks Ground

Easterseals boasts to prove to be one of the best gyms in the nation, and it has just begun a fundraising campaign. Not only will it allegedly be a needed resource for the people in the neighborhood, but it will also cater to students with autism spectrum disorder.

History of Easterseals

Originally, Easterseals started in Ohio approximately one hundred years ago, and was originally referred to as the National Society for Crippled Children. It received its new name because of its annual Easter campaign. Each year, donors would receive stationary seals that would emblemize their support of the cause and the organization. The organization was shocked by how extremely successful and popular their seals program turned out to be, resulting in the changed name "Easterseals" after their campaign.

Easterseals is a nationwide organization that assists communities in towns big and small; however, its Chicago chapter is especially known. The chapter is able to serve 33,000 clients per year, impacting their lives by enabling them to get involved with programs like Camp Friendship, Headstart, caretaker respite, and Easterseals Academy.

Building the fitness center

The impressive construction is said to be 26,000 square feet, and will be located near Easterseals' Chicago headquarters. The location is 1939 W. 13th Street.

The headquarters were built in 2008 and the Terrence J. Hancock Family Campus is able to provide a therapeutic education to the 120 children and 30 adults who have autism spectrum disorder or varying other special needs via the Easterseals Academy.

Clune Construction has been tasked with building the fitness center, and their scheduling suggests that it should be open Summer of 2018.

Originally, Easterseals intended to open the fitness center earlier, so it could be opened simultaneously with the entire campus; however, they experienced that state funds were depleted during the recession, halting their project plans. Though the project was delayed, they knew that they were not going to give up on it. A year ago, the CEO and President, Tim Muri, said that the fitness center simply could not wait any longer, and they returned to their plans.

Muri stated, "we knew our kids deserved this, so we said, let's roll up our sleeves and do it. So, when we open the doors [on the fitness center], it will be the culmination of a dream we had 15 years ago."

There was even some benefit to the delay, although it was hard to see at first. In the meantime, Easterseals had significant added time to perfect its plans. Now, they are going to be able to deliver a facility that will not only definitely meet, but likely exceed, the needs of the community. One addition that was made due to the added time for planning was including a second-floor track that was not previously included. Easterseals came to the conclusion that it was something necessary for the neighborhood that they would not otherwise be able to have.


Easterseals has managed to raise a bit of money privately; however, they still have a while to go. Officials from the organization are optimistic that a public campaign will enable them to help secure the remainder of the money they require to cover the cost of the complex facility. Luckily, they have secured some major donors that are aiding the process tremendously. These donors have received naming rights for the campus as well as the track and locker rooms, the garden, and calming rooms. However, some naming rights are still available to further donors. The top major donors and contributors are Terrence J. Hancock, Teamsters Local Union No. 731, RoccoVino's Italian Restaurant, and St. Ignatius College Prep.

Uses of the future facility

The goal is for the fitness center to be available to the entire community both on evening and weekends. They will have access to all facilities, including a gymnasium, running track, auditorium with a stage, and fitness area. These excellent resources will have many uses, and will act as more than simply a fitness center, but a place to gather as well. The motion behind it aims to offer a place to find not only athletic equipment, but a place where a show can be put on a stage, and a place where people can practice wellness and mindfulness.

The Easterseals Academy students are also going to be heavily involved in the fitness center, and it will be available to them for physical education; however, physical education for these students is not what you might think of when you think back to your phys. Ed. class in high school. Easterseals ensures that all physical education is adapted and tailored to each individual, in order to more intensely benefit them personally.

Children who have autism spectrum disorder can display a wide variety of behaviors. A common trait is a sense of hypersensitivity when faced with bright lights of loud noises. Because of this, the construction of the facility has to make certain changes in order to be useful for all. Muri has specified that the recreation area will be lit in a non-fluorescent manner, and activities to relieve stress will be in place throughout the entire center to aid in the frustrations that might occur when dealing with being nonverbal or experiencing social troubles. Other than that, the fitness center will physically appear to look like a typical gym, but when you get involved you will quickly understand that it is so much more.

Muri further described the decisions in appearance: "The goal is to make these kids feel as much as possible that they're part of their peer groups and kids their age. So, you wouldn't notice anything too different" at the center. This effort is to enforce the feeling that those with autism spectrum disorder are capable of engaging in what their neurotypical peers can, even if they require small changes such as lighting.

The academy has already been approved by the Illinois State Board of Education and acts as a referral site for students between the age of 3 and 21 who have autism spectrum disorder, emotional or intellectual disabilities, or developmental delays.

On top of the construction that is targeted towards them by Common Core, the students are also able to receive therapy, vocational training, art therapy, and behavioral consultation.

Easterseals is pioneering the way to integrate care for those with autism spectrum disorder with needed resources within communities. Their efforts go to show that funding from the community does not necessarily have to be split between "resources for the community" and "resources for people with autism spectrum disorder" but the same funding can go towards initiatives that can be enjoyed by both. Only comparatively small adjustments have to be made for gymnasiums to be friendly towards those with autism, like improvements on the lights. Surely, communities all over the nation can come together to improve their common resources to make them friendlier towards those with autism, while improving them for themselves as well.

Easterseals has also proved that if government funding fails, reaching out to donors may work just as well—or better!