Special recreation district marks 40th year.
Mary Delos Reyes, 21, of Skokie, a part-time employee at The Maine-Niles Association of Special Recreation, helps Karla Reinante of Skokie cut an avacado during a Club Teen cooking class at the Devonshire Cultural Center in Skokie on Sept. 13. | Michael
Updated: October 21, 2012 1:53PM
MORTON GROVE — Sue Bear is proud of the fact that her agency was just the second special recreation district created in Illinois.
That was back in 1972 shortly after the state legislature passed a new law that allowed park districts to levy a tax specifically to provide recreational programs for people with disabilities.
This year Bear and everyone associated with the Main-Niles Association of Special Recreation are celebrating its 40th anniversary. The group held an open house at its Morton Grove headquarters last week to mark the occasion.
M-NASR provides recreational programs to children and adults in six park districts and the Village of Lincolnwood Parks and Recreation Department. Member districts include the Skokie Park District, Morton Grove Park District, Niles Park District, Des Plaines Park District, Park Ridge Park District and the Golf-Maine Park District.
Bear said the state now has 28 special recreation districts, but M-NASR’s early start really shows just how important area park districts believed it was to provide services to people with disabilities.
“It shows the commitment there was to people with disabilities. And we’re really proud of that,” Bear said.
“All seven districts are very supportive of our agency. We count ourselves very lucky for that support.”
M-NASR offers a range of activities, from an annual trip to dances and other special events. Just like the park districts that are members, the agency provides programs such as swimming, camps, bowling, and a variety of team sports.
Barbara Saunders, public information officer, noted that the agency also provides aides on a one-on-one basis to people who want to take part in regular park district programs.
“If we have a person who wants to take part in a park district program we’ll provide an aide for you to make that happen,” she said.
A quick flip though the agency’s fall catalog shows programs such as Fall Apple Picking, basketball, art classes, martial arts and the annual Halloween Dance. The agency even offers curling as one of its adaptive sports programs.
Bear said the history of he agency has not really been well documented, but a key event occurred in 2001 when M—NASR moved into its permanent headquarters in an addition to the Prairie View Community Center, the Morton Grove Park District’s main facility.
The two agencies worked out an agreement that allowed the park district to front the money to build the addition and have it paid back by M-NASR through its rent payments.
“That’s one of the best decisions were ever made,” Bear said.
Prior to that move, a week before the attack on the World Trade Center, M-NASR had been in a series of facilities, most recently an office park in Skokie.
The new digs with more space for programs allowed M-NASR to offer more and to stop worrying about where it would be located.
“It greatly reduced our rent and allowed us to offer more programs,” Bear said.
As for the future, Saunders said she expects the agency to continue growing
While Bear agrees with that, she said she is also concerned about the future of the agency if the state continues to reduce funding for special recreation as officials try to eliminate a huge deficit.
“What worries me is our state,” she said. “There have been significant cuts.
“We are asked to do more and more as a therapeutic recreation agency. Our state has not made it a priority.”
Funding, Bear said, is always “a challenge we face.”
In addition to property tax money collected by member districts, M-NASR survives primarily on donations.
The Liponi Foundation is one organization that regularly raises money for M-NASR and has donated vehicles, scholarships and underwritten programs.
But Bear said the real key to the success of M-NASR has been the staff.
“We have a great staff who continue to stay with the agency to help our participants,” Bear said.
“They have to be compassionate, committee people. We’re a team and thee families trust us.”