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New kitchen, laundry facilities unveiled at Giant Steps’ Canopy adult autism program

A new life-skills kitchen and laundry facility are helping to fill a unique void in Giant Steps’ Canopy adult autism program.

During a July 13 open house at the Sugar Grove facility, Giant Steps staff joined interior design students of the College of DuPage, many local business owners, program participants and others for an open house designed to highlight the new space.

The event featured a dedication ceremony to recognize key contributors and project leaders. Among those honored were Jerry and Keith Rich of Rich Harvest Farms near Sugar Grove, the owners of the building in which space was donated to Giant Steps’ Canopy.

The expansion comes equipped with a laundry facility and a kitchen, which has a stove, oven, refrigerator, cabinets and more.

“Prior to this, we did not have a full-size kitchen or laundry facility,” said Lillian Peterson, program director for Canopy.

Peterson said the new space allows participants to try their hand at life skills/tasks that participants may still be working on.

Between adapted cooking and laundry, the kitchen and laundry facility will provide opportunities for expanded programming at Giant Steps’ Canopy.

“These are crucial life skills when becoming more of an independent individual and that’s our goal,” Giant Steps executive director Dr. Sylvia Smith said during the dedication ceremony.

Peterson shared that sentiment, saying that hopefully, participants can take the skills they learn in the program and put them to use at home.

Jim Thornton, a board member for Giant Steps and a parent of a Canopy program participant, said that knowing his daughter will be able to build on life skills is a wonderful opportunity.

“It’s so important to our family because this is the place where my adult daughter with autism comes five days a week,” he said. “It’s just so important for her continuing development.”

Giant Steps launched its Canopy adult autism program in 2017 to meet the needs of therapeutic day school students who were no longer eligible to receive school-based services and support upon turning age 22.

Canopy currently serves 32 participants whom are on the autism spectrum.

Previously, the Canopy adult autism program was based out of Giant Steps’ therapeutic day school in Lisle.

“We were gaining momentum and increasing the number of participants, but also we wanted to give a sense of ownership to the adult participants,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the goal moving forward is to increase participation levels over the next year to help determine how many more can be served in the space.

The new kitchen and laundry facility are made possible thanks to support from many donors and volunteers. It’s valued at a little more than $75,000, which Smith said is wonderful.

“What we try do is create an environment where they can succeed at whatever level they happen to be functioning at and that’s critical,” she said.