About 110 deaf or hearing-impaired boys and girls enjoy picnic at Freedom Park
By Steve Metsch email@example.com May 25, 2014 3:58PM
Staci Koutsis, 13, of Tinley Park, fields a ball kicked by Heidi Schuber, right, a sign language interpreter for School District 142, during a game of kickball during a picnic Friday in Chicago Ridge for deaf and hearing impaired children. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 27, 2014 6:16AM
For about 110 deaf or hearing-impaired boys and girls, Freedom Park in Chicago Ridge was the place to be on a perfect spring Friday.
That’s where for the fifth straight year a picnic was held for kids from the Eisenhower Cooperative and the Southwest Cook County Cooperative Association for Special Education.
There were brand-new inflatables, on loan from the Chicago Ridge Park District, to play upon along with bean bags to toss, kites to fly, mini-scooters to ride and basketballs to shoot.
In addition, everyone enjoyed a lunch of burgers, chips, pop and watermelon slices, and many played kickball against their teachers.
The event was held at Freedom Park at the urging of park district Commissioner Dave Conrad whose daughter, Krystle, 26, is deaf.
Five years ago, Krystle, who teaches for the Southwest Cooperative, told her dad that the two groups were having trouble finding a place to host a picnic.
“I said, ‘You know what, have a picnic in our park,’ ” Conrad said.
Krystle Conrad likes the event because it gives the kids from both programs a chance to spend time together.
Munching on a slice of watermelon, Karen Gross, a speech pathologist with the Eisenhower Cooperative, based in Crestwood, said the kids look forward to the picnic every year.
“(Dave) has totally made it possible. Every year they (the park district) welcome us,” Gross said. “It’s not only the end of the school year, there’s no communication barriers here. They’re with the staff, who sign, and they’re with other deaf kids. So this is a huge social event for them without communication barriers.”
A lack of people who use sign language is widespread. Of 30 kids in the Eisenhower program, only two families know how to sign, she said.
“The majority of these kids go home, and they don’t have access (to sign language with their families) which is why they love school,” Gross said.
There were no communication problems Friday. Laughter was the main language spoken on a dusty ball field during a heated kickball game that pitted about 30 kids against staff members from each cooperative.
“I love it. The kids love it, and they look forward to it all year long. It’s a perfect day,” said Claudia Longino, of the Southwest Cooperative.
She was busy guarding a hole near first base so nobody would run into it and twist an ankle.
Staci Koutsis, 13, of Tinley Park, was having lots of fun playing kickball, where runs were scored but nobody was really keeping score.
“The picnic is fun, and it means that we worked hard in school all year. I like being with the (Southwest) Cooperative. You can make friends,” Staci said.