DuPage Community Foundation Grant Helps Fund Ray Graham Association’s Monarch Academy

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Monarch Academy participants (left to right) Paul M., Louie H., Chris J., and Amey T. are ready to harvest fall seeds from the plants in the garden they planted at the Hanson Center in Burr Ridge.

WHEATON, IL-The DuPage Community Foundation recently received a final report back from the Ray Graham Association on the outcome of a $10,000 grant it received as part of the Foundation’s 2013 Fall Community Needs Grant Program. The grant was earmarked to fund costs associated with the agency’s Monarch Academy.

Helping people with disabilities and their families is what the Ray Graham Association is all about. The agency’s goal is to discover the right tools to empower each individual to reach, grow, and achieve. One way Ray Graham Association does this is through its Monarch Academy.

Monarch Academy, founded in January 2011, just celebrated its four-year anniversary. A post-high school program, Monarch Academy engages its participants in the community in a variety of ways focusing on cultivating their social, recreational and life skills. The program was born from an idea that came from parents of the residents of an independent apartment complex of Ray Graham residents known as “Monarch Living,” located in Elmhurst.

“The program provides a menu of options for participants in the day program,” said Kristen Garcia, program coordinator of Monarch Services for Ray Graham Association. This menu includes various social and recreational options for the young adults who are leaving the High School Transition Program for their first experiences in the adult world. The High School Transition Program includes the four years after high school and serves participants up to age 22.

“The Transition Program includes teaching participants how to do their own laundry, budgeting and other life skills they might not be accustomed to doing,” added Garcia. “Once the Transition Program is completed, an adult service provider is something that most families try to find for their children. Monarch Academy is a great option for them.”
“Our Monarch Academy program really developed with families who worked with us,” said Kathy Carmody, MSW, Ray Graham Association’s chief of staff. “It is the culmination of an idea of what they wanted their children to experience during the day after high school graduation. A key element is the partnership with parents, which I feel is the best part.”
Monarch Academy participants range in age from 22 to mid-30s. The goal of the program from the start has been to provide opportunities for the participants to be present and active in a community for a majority of the day. The routine is to have a “home base” in the community where the Monarch Academies are set up-currently one in Burr Ridge and one in Naperville-and spend a good part of the day out and about. Creating partnerships in the communities is critical to the program’s success.

“We always work closely with the families to ensure we provide the kinds of activities that they want for their sons and daughters,” said Garcia. The Monarch Academy programming runs from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday – Friday. Currently there are 21 people in the program, 11 in the Naperville location and 10 in Burr Ridge.

The Monarch Academy daily schedule consists of educational and recreational sessions
such as health and fitness, life skills and coaching, and the arts. Once in the program, participants typically remain until they transition into an employment-based schedule. Each month the participants work with the Monarch Academy staffers to plan the upcoming month’s program.

“This helps the participants gain ownership of the program,” said Garcia.
“Some of the program participants use different technology to assist them with their disabilities,” said Carmody. “The grant from The DuPage Community Foundation has enabled families with disabilities to really experience the kind of quality services and structure that Ray Graham provides to their children. That’s what’s most satisfying.”

“My favorite part of Monarch Academy is that it’s different for everyone,” said Garcia. “I love the friendships and the social connection with people. There are real friendships formed and it provides a meaningful day for people. Without the program, the participants would be at home. They much rather prefer to be in the community and in a small group setting.”

“Building relationships is what life is all about,” said Carmody. “This is most evident in the Monarch Academy over any other Ray Graham program and at the end of the day, that’s what people want-to feel a part of something.” The building and establishing of relationships is one aspect of the Monarch Academy which Carmody points out as a unique attribute. “Creating, fostering and carrying on relationships have always been one of the best features of our program,” said Carmody. “The Monarch Academy is a parent’s dream for his or her child. We are helping make that dream come true.”

About Ray Graham Association:
Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities is a not-for-profit organization that
provides a broad array of services and supports nearly 2,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities such as, cerebral palsy and autism. Services include residential, employment, life skills, and family support at 35 locations throughout DuPage County and the surrounding areas. For more information, visit www.ray-graham.org.

About The DuPage Community Foundation:
The DuPage Community Foundation seeks to raise the quality of life throughout DuPage County by fostering philanthropy, connecting donors to area needs and building community partnerships. Based on the American virtues of volunteerism and philanthropy, the Foundation fosters a legacy of support for the people of DuPage County by making grants to not-for-profit organizations working in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment, health, and human services. Since its inception, the Foundation has built its endowment to more than $61 million and awarded more than $20 million in grants to not-for-profit agencies serving the residents of DuPage County and beyond.
Established in 1986, The DuPage Community Foundation is a publicly-supported 501(c)(3) organization to which contributions are tax deductible. It was created to benefit the people of DuPage County and receives contributions and bequests into a permanent endowment from individuals, corporations, organizations and foundations wishing to make lasting contributions to the people of DuPage. The earnings on these funds are then used, in accordance with donor wishes, for the Foundation’s grantmaking and community leadership activities.

For more information about the Foundation, or to arrange future media opportunities, please contact Joelyn Kott, marketing & communications officer, at (630) 665-5556, extension 19, or jkott@dcfdn.org.

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