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Easterseals of Central Illinois wants full community participation during its upcoming annual Community Rally

Hayden Fay, previous MC of Easterseals annual ball
Hayden Fay, previous MC of Easterseals annual ball

Easterseals Central Illinois is gearing up for its second annual Community Rally in April and invites all of Central Illinois to participate.

Easterseals is a nonprofit organization that provides specialized pediatric therapy services to children from birth to age 21 with developmental delays, disabilities, and other special needs. These services help families in Peoria, with a service center also located in Bloomington.

Molly Hogeboom, community engagement manager for Easterseals, is proud of the expert level of care Easterseals provides, but says the overall mission expands even further.

“We aim to work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be 100% included and 100% empowered,” said Hogeboom.

The need for a program like this within the community is very apparent, especially when it comes to assisting families who are impacted by Autism. According tothe CDC, 1 in 44 8-year-old children are diagnosed with autism. Currently, Easterseals Central Illinois is the leading downstate provider of autism services.

“Last year we served over 5,000 families in Central Illinois, and that’s providing a little bit over 36,000 hours of specialized pediatric therapy,” Hogeboom said.

Molly Hogeboom, community engagement manager for Easterseals
Jody Holtz
Molly Hogeboom, community engagement manager for Easterseals.

Hogeboom has had quite an interesting journey herself throughout her time at Easterseals, as she was the 1993 poster child of Easterseals Central Illinois. At a young age, she was diagnosed with right side cerebral palsy. After her diagnosis, her parents had a lot of unanswered questions, as the doctors couldn’t specifically predict what sort of physical limitations she may have in the future.

With the help of the therapy services provided to her via Easterseals, Hogeboom conquered the challenges presented to her and is now a mom and role model not just to her own family, but to so many others that have come after her at Easterseals. She currently works closely with ambassador families willing to share their Easterseals stories publicly, much like she did years ago.

One of her favorite ambassador stories surrounds a child named Hayden. One of the first ambassador opportunities presented to Hayden was at a Limestone Community High School assembly, where he was given the chance to speak to students about his journey. However, when the time came, Hayden froze up, and his mother told his story on his behalf.

Fast forward a few years to the Easterseals Century Ball, and Hayden had made an impressive amount of growth.

“We filled the Peoria Civic Center wall to wall, so that's over 1,000 people, and our emcee that night was Hayden. That story is one near and dear … he thrives and he’s just a great personality,” said Hogeboom.
The community support Easterseals receives is impressive, especially from many of the local schools through Easterseals' ability awareness program. This program seeks to educate children about disabilities, the population Easterseals serves, and how important it is to be kind to one another.

“We have a large group of District 150 schools actually participating in that program the week of the Community Rally. So that kind of brings those little friends together to celebrate our little friends and to create that awareness as to not only what Easterseals does but how it’s important that each kiddo we serve is unique and special,” explains Hogeboom.

While so many schools have participated in this program or other programs, like T-shirt selling campaigns, there is one school in particular that takes the cake when it comes to their support of Easterseals.

Hayden Fay at the Easterseals century ball
Hayden Fay at the Easterseals century ball

“And that is Limestone high school … they’ve raised over a million dollars for Easterseals, and it's really one of the coolest things you’ll ever see. Not only that these high school kids raise that amount of money for Easterseals every year, but they also go above and beyond to spread awareness and to teach inclusion and acceptance in their school,” said Hogeboom.

Though the support that pours in from Limestone and other schools helps Easterseals and its families in tremendous ways, Hogeboom hopes that everyone in Central Illinois will find a way to join the rally this April and help Easterseals continue its mission.

“I think what makes the Community Rally so cool is that it really gives our community visibility as to what Easterseals is. Our families that we serve are some of the most amazing people and kiddos you’ll ever meet, and this weeklong celebration gives the opportunity to celebrate them, and get to know them, and get to know why Easterseals is so important to them … you can participate in any way you are able to,” says Hogeboom.

The community rally begins April 16 and runs through April 23. Some ways to get involved include registering for their family friendly 5K run/1 mile walk on April 16 in East Peoria, tuning into WMBD’s telethon to make your donation, or hosting your own fundraiser or workplace challenge to support the cause. Whatever way you choose to rally, Hogeboom says the impact will be lasting.

“We provide the promise of progress. We allow opportunities for kids to hear ‘I can’. They do not hear ‘I can’t’, and that’s a big deal for our families. To not only receive those services that they do to help them in their daily lives, but kind of allow us as a community to pave the way when those families leave our doors, that’s why I think it's so important to support Easterseals and the Community Rally."

Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy and Bradley University President Stephen Standifird are honorary co-chairs of the Community Rally. Find more information about the rally and Easterseals Central Illinois on their website.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.