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Turning Pointe raising funds to build autism academy
By Christie Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/17/2010 12:01 AM

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Like most parents, Randy and Kim Wolf want the best for their son Jack. They want to give him opportunities to succeed, both academically and socially.

For Jack, though, the bright lights and general hubbub of a typical classroom are distracting and upsetting. Jack is autistic and, while some autistic children can be comfortable in traditional school settings, he needs a more subdued learning environment with strategies and therapies tailored just for him.

In their search for the right fit, the Naperville couple worked with their home school district hoping that with some adaptations Jack could go to school with his neighbors and peers. When that proved too chaotic, they found a school set up to meet the needs of autistic students and enrolled him despite the 90-minute commute.

The Wolfs wanted to be more involved in Jack's education, and began thinking of other children with autism in the area and how they could benefit from a special school nearby. They've founded the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation to bring such a school into existence.

Already, the foundation has purchased seven acres in southwest Naperville where leaders hope to break ground this fall on a school and residential-care facility where children and young adults severely impacted by autism can learn and receive therapy. Ultimately, they envision 36 students between the ages of 9 and 22 taking classes and working with occupational, speech and physical therapists, psychologists and social workers. In addition, the campus would have a cafeteria, greenhouse, gymnasium, therapy pool and mock apartment, and recreational facilities would be open to those with other disabilities in partnership with the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association.

The foundation is raising money to build the Turning Pointe Autism Academy. Its efforts will get a boost from the Naperville Sunrise Rotary's third annual Naperpalooza. The party, on Feb. 20, has a Jimmy Buffett-style "Naperitaville" theme. Proceeds will benefit Turning Pointe as well as Little Friends Inc., a Naperville-based not-for-profit that also helps those with autism, as well as education efforts in Zambia and scholarships for local college-bound students.

Kevin Gallaher, president of the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation, tells us more about plans for the academy.

Q. What is your mission?

A. To educate and teach life skills to individuals severely impacted by autism and to provide recreation for disabled individuals.

Q. How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?

A. We are constructing a school for children severely impacted by autism, incorporating technology into all aspects of the curriculum. Our recreation facility will serve all disabled individuals.

Q. Who do you serve?

A. We will serve autistic children and disabled individuals in Naperville as well as throughout DuPage, Will, Kane and Kendall counties.

Q. When and why did the organization start? How has it grown?

A. We formed in 2007. We now own land for the school and rec center and have begun our fundraising.

Q. What kind of successes have you had?

A. We have operated summer camps to teach life skills to autistic children. We have had children from as far away as California and New Jersey attend our camps.

Q. What challenges does the organization currently face?

A. As with all not-for-profit organizations, fundraising is our biggest challenge.

Q. What would surprise most people if they spent a week with the organization?

A. The autistic children that we work with are incredibly intelligent. As long as we break down communication barriers, we make huge strides.

Q. How can readers get involved?

A. Attend Naperpalooza and visit our Web site, turningpointeautismfoundation.org, for more information.

If you go

What: Naperpalooza

Why: Proceeds benefit Turning Pointe Autism Foundation

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20

Where: Jackson Moving and Storage, 740 Frontenac Road, Naperville

Cost: $140

Info: naperpalooza.com

Vital statistics

Requests for help per month: 20

Funding: Donations and community development block grants

Full-time employees: 2

Volunteers: 25

Info: (800) 518-5099 or turningpointeautismfoundation.org