What started 60 years ago as a group of parents’ dream for their children has evolved into so much more.
Abilities Plus is a not-for-profit organization located in Kewanee. It serves individuals of all ages with disabilities.
The organization was founded in 1959 with a class of seven children, and now serves approximately 250 children and adults from Henry, Stark and western Bureau Counties.
Abilities Plus services have changed and evolved over the years, to meet the needs of local residents and their families. The Early Intervention and Prevention Initiative programs provide services to children 0 to 3 years old through therapy and family assistance.
Work Services and Developmental Training programs provide work and independent living skills training as well as community integrated activities for adults.
The residential program provides 24-hour support to 17 adults. Abilities Plus has three residential homes, including one purpose-built by the organization.
Other services include; Case Coordination, Home Based Support, Respite, and Special Olympics. Abilities Plus also operates Henry County Public Transportation which provides
transportation to the
general public throughout
“I think a lot of people don’t know the depth of the services we offer today,” said Kim Walker, Executive Director of Abilities Plus.
In 1959, the local Pilot Club invited parents of children with disabilities to a meeting to discuss a class tailored to fit the needs of their children.
“At the time, there weren’t many opportunities for children with disabilities,” said Julie Landwehr, Director of Development for Abilities Plus.
“They were looking for services for their children with disabilities, and when none existed, they began their own,” said Walker, who called the founders “trailblazers.”
“We raised money, served on committees, and created and showed a film. We worked uncounted hours as volunteers who were committed to establishing services for children who at that time had very few,” said Pat Brown, of Toulon, a founding parent.
During the summer of 1959, a six-week class was held at First Baptist Church, in Kewanee.
“We had a small, uncertain budget, but as time went by we had a budget of $800 in our second year,” remembers Brown.
From those early beginnings, the organization developed. Originally known as the Organization for Retarded Citizens, the name was changed to the Association of Retarded Citizens of Henry and Stark Counties before becoming Abilities Plus, in 1989.
It’s also moved from sharing space at a church to several locations of its own.
In 2004, the agency purchased and remodeled the former Illinois Power building on East Street, in Kewanee.
The Illinois Power building has space for the agency’s developmental training and work services programs as well as classroom space, a fitness center, child services area and its transportation facilities.
“People who visit say they had no idea about our size or what we offer,” said Landwehr.
Within the Work Services space at Abilities Plus, workers tackle an array of projects for area clients.
“They have a great sense of pride in the work they do,” said Andrea Hofer, Production Management Supervisor for Abilities Plus.
At the site itself, Work Service participants may be assembling promotional material, shredding documents, drying flowers or any other number of projects they have been hired to complete.
“They always like when we get a new job,” said Hofer.
Crews also provide janitorial service to businesses, churches and organizations in the area.
The Work Services jobs give participants a chance to earn money while utilizing their skills.
Abilities Plus also serves clients in their Developmental Training program. The program allows clients to work on basic life skills in a classroom-like setting. Opportunities are given to participate in basic vocational skill training and community integration activities. In order to be eligible for this program, individuals must be approved for state funding.
“We have a waiting list of people wanting to come here,” said Walker.
Donors and scholarship opportunities do help some clients afford services at Abilities Plus.
“I’m always so touched and humbled by the support our communities give to us,” said Walker.
Abilities Plus has an all-volunteer resale shop in Kewanee, with proceeds benefiting the agency.
The newly established Plus One Legacy Society honors those who have included Abilities Plus in their will or estate planning.
“Plus One will help guarantee the future of the agency,” said Landwehr.
“Abilities Plus was founded out of necessity by parents who wanted more for their children,” said Walker.
In the 60 years since those parents banded together, the agency has grown to serve thousands of individuals and impact Henry County and the surrounding area.
“Working here has opened my eyes to all the things a person with disabilities is able to do. I’ve learned more here than any place else,” said Walker.
For more information about the organization, visit www.abilitiesplus.org.