I must have driven by the building countless times over the past few months, never knowing what warm and friendly people were busy working inside.
Garden Center Services, an organization that provides a wide range of services to adults with developmental disabilities, opened a new facility in Mt. Greenwood last spring.
With little fanfare, they have been going about their business in a former medical center at 10444 S. Kedzie Ave., working to enhance the lives of developmentally disabled adults and to provide them with opportunities to live fulfilling lives.
I was invited to take a tour of the facility and learn a little more about the role Garden Center plays in the lives of its clients. Along the way I met a staff who is passionate about their work, and clients who are excited to learn and full of pride for a job well done.
"We want our individuals to have really meaningful, engaging ways to spend their day," said Gerry Beagles, Garden Center Services executive director.
Garden Center's work goes back to the 1956 when it started as a school for developmentally disabled children. Over the decades it focused its efforts on serving adults. From 12 residential facilities to day programs, and work opportunities to making special wishes come true, staff and volunteers enrich the approximately 150 lives they touch each day.
The organization runs several businesses including a printing company, coffee bean roasting, a thrift shop, document shredding and an art gallery. The revenue goes toward supplementing their funding and also gives clients the opportunity to engage in satisfying work.
In addition, Garden Center sends crews out into the community. For example, clients spend time cleaning toys at the Oak Lawn Children's Museum.
That is an area Beagles hopes to expand in their new location. He is looking to create new partnerships and relationships with local businesses, community groups, schools and individuals looking to volunteer. He says they would love to explore opportunities for clients to enter the community and contribute.
"They are more gifted than they are disabled," Beagles said. "They all have something to contribute."
I couldn't help but tell Beagles about the often remarkable and passionate community members I have come across in my reporting. I assured him that in this area there would be no shortage of people and groups willing to get involved.
So if you know of a way to support the newest addition to town, drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expect new signage to adorn the building soon and an open house is planned for the near future that will allow community members a chance to see Garden Center Services firsthand.