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Ahern: Beacon Therapeutic School more than just a fun place to sled

BeacTherapeutic Diagnostic Treatment Center 10650 S. Longwood Ave. Chicago educates children provides services more than 450 homeless families throughout Chicago.

Beacon Therapeutic Diagnostic and Treatment Center, 10650 S. Longwood Ave., Chicago, educates children and provides services to more than 450 homeless families throughout Chicago. The school recently held its 20th annual Holiday Supper, where guests could enjoy horse-drawn buggy rides through the Chicago’s Beverly community. | Supplied Photo

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Updated: January 3, 2013 6:11AM



In Chicago’s Beverly community, there are many who only see Beacon Therapeutic School, 10650 S. Longwood Ave., as a fun place to sled in the winter.

The school, however, is much more than a venue for sledding, and is much more than a school. Beacon Therapeutic Diagnostic and Treatment Center not only educates children from elementary through high school years, but also provides services to the homeless throughout Chicago.

In addition to being a school for children who have emotional, behavioral or learning needs that cannot be served by a local school, Beacon’s staff also reaches out to homeless families in 27 shelters throughout the city, providing services to help stabilize families and get them into permanent housing.

This outreach includes efforts to help children get health coverage, and Beacon’s FACT project — Family Assertive Community Treatment — targets homeless and at-risk mothers who have at least one child less than 5 years old.

“We know that homelessness derails or stalls a child’s development,” Beacon CEO and president Susan Reyna-Guerrero said. “If we can deliver services, we have a recipe to modify the needs of the children, and we know this model works.”

Reyna-Guerrero said the Intensive Outpatient Program with 3- to 5-year-old children may not necessarily focus on academics, but instead encourages developmental skills the children should have. Beacon’s program for 8- to 16-year-old students has a similar focus.

“We build on skills the children should have, and our goal is to get them into regular school or day care,” Reyna-Guerrero said. “Our 8- to 16-year-old after-school program works on social development and coping skills. Coping skills become life skills.”

Further, as an Early Head Start home-based provider, Beacon has other homeless-related programs, which respond to emotional, developmental and learning needs of children age 3 and younger. Beacon also includes outpatient services, which are an alternative to hospitalization, for in-crisis children ages 3 to 18.

Clearly, Beacon is more than a sledding destination, but it doesn’t bother Reyna-Guerrero that people associate Beacon with winter fun.

“I think it’s OK to think of Beacon in that way, because I know that it’s hard to look at a homeless child,” Reyna-Guerrero said. “It’s hard to imagine a child who has had a hard time in their home school, or has had a horrific background.”

Beacon’s staff of about 140 works with more than 100 students at the school, helping to assess and provide a stable environment where children can learn. In working with the homeless, Beacon’s staff will not only help people find health care, but help a family get to the doctor. Staff members also teach life skills.

“I feel we do so much more than health care,” Reyna-Guerrero said. “We focus on the mental health needs of the families, responding to the issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, psychiatric issues — the traumas associated with being homeless.”

Beacon’s homeless initiatives are an attempt to tackle a significant problem in Chicago. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, more than 17,000 students were reported by the Chicago Public Schools system during 2011-12, and almost 20 percent of those children were diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays.

Reyna-Guerrero explained how she keeps from being overwhelmed by statistics such as these.

“I try to think of helping one family at a time,” she said. “We see the success we have — we see it in the moms. I see a level of resiliency with these moms and with these children. I hear the commitment these moms have for their kids.

“No one believed in them, but if we can help that adult for the children, we can make an impact and it is really wonderful to have a breakthrough.”

Kathy Daniher, the director of homes outreach services for Beacon, shared Reyna-Guerrero’s concern regarding the homeless situation in the city, but was hopeful, crediting Beacon staff for her optimism.

“Our staff is very dedicated to the best interests of the people we help,” Daniher said. “And we go to where we are needed — we go to shelters or to homes and provide help wherever it is needed. We are seeing mothers who want to be good parents, who want to be able to do more.

“It’s not easy though. We want them to gain self-sufficiency but we always need more resources to help the homeless transition from being homeless.”

Daniher said the Beverly community is very generous to Beacon, but said there is still a need for “gently used” items to help people in their homes. Daniher said pots, pans, silverware, cleaning products, high chairs or big furniture donations are helpful.

Reyna-Guerrero summed up the efforts that Beacon makes on behalf of the people they try to help.

“We believe in the unbreakable power of the human spirit to overcome and persevere,” she said. “Our program participants continue to demonstrate, to themselves and their communities, that it is never too late to write a new ending to a disadvantaged beginning.”

For more information, visit www.beacon-therapeutic.org. To make a donation, contact Peggy Rourke, Beacon’s director of development, at (773) 298-1243.



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