E-news from The Baby Fold

Celebrating 30 years of personalized care for children with autism

student at a table

In August 1993, four children gathered in a single classroom at Hammitt Elementary and The Baby Fold’s Challenges Autism Program officially began. As the program approaches its 30th anniversary this fall, it has grown to serve 31 students in seven different classrooms at both Hammitt Elementary and Hammitt Junior-Senior High School. 

Autism—also referred to as autism spectrum disorder—is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with autism often have difficulty with communication and social interactions. They may have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. They might also have sensory sensitivities, including sights, sounds, and touch. Each individual’s symptoms are unique.

The Baby Fold’s autism program is a great example of our long history of adapting to meet emerging needs of children and families in our community. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that researchers started to discover that intense behavior therapy could help children with autism. In the early 1990s, the federal government recognized that children with autism had different needs than other students in special education classrooms.

When The Baby Fold’s first Challenges classroom opened in 1993 at Hammitt Elementary, the students came from other classrooms at the school. The teachers recognized that the students with autism needed a different type of classroom—one with highly individualized educational and daily living skills tailored to their sensory and communication needs. The program also offered supportive services to parents and families. These resources gave parents hope and created a brighter future for their children. 

student at a desk

30 years later, that bright future continues today. The Baby Fold remains dedicated to the individual needs of children at Hammitt School, offering all students customized special education. The expert instruction and therapeutics that children ages 3–21 receive in The Baby Fold’s autism program help to reveal and build upon their strengths while maximizing their potential. Our goal is to help students gain the communication, life, and vocational skills that enhance positive behaviors and increase independent functioning.

The program has grown over time, too, as the number of children with autism has increased. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 1990s, 2–7 children per 1,000 were diagnosed with autism. The number is much higher today at 1 in 44 children. That drastic increase is due in part to advances in diagnostic capabilities and a greater awareness and understanding of the disorder.

Increased awareness has also resulted in advances in technology that are assisting students in the program. The children are able to use a variety of Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices (AAC) to communicate, and each classroom has at least one student (if not all) who use high or low-tech AAC devices. The peace that children feel when they’re able to communicate their feelings and needs is transformational and helps them to move through life with greater confidence and success.

The need for this program continues to grow, and there is a long waiting list. If you have a heart for connecting with children, experience with special education, and a desire to join this amazing team of experts, see the Careers section on The Baby Fold’s website. You could be part of the next 30 years of this impactful program.

student with teacher
student and staff

Commemorating National Social Work Month

teacher with student

Social work touches nearly every aspect of The Baby Fold’s work with children and families, so we enjoy commemorating National Social Work Month each March. Social work is a helping profession. A social worker helps individuals, families, and communities meet both basic and complex needs. They walk alongside people to ensure they gain the resources, skills, and tools needed to overcome obstacles and to be their best selves. 

Helping children and families is at the very heart of what we do. While not all of our 260 employees are social workers, much of the work in our 12 transformative programs is done to assist our children and families, and to help them reach their full potential. 

Our family advocates at Hammitt Schools connect families and teachers to truly understand each student’s strengths and needs and to help strengthen their relationships. Our Community Schools coordinators also bridge the gap between families and schools, in a public school setting, helping to facilitate communication between teachers and parents. They also provide valuable support to families whose needs might otherwise go unnoticed. 

In Adoption Support and Preservation, family counselors walk adoptive families through strategies to overcome trauma and create stronger family bonds. Early childhood development specialists from Caregiver Connections help childcare providers identify and respond to children’s needs through a lens of trauma-informed care, especially emotional and behavioral struggles. 

Family support specialists in Healthy Start work with new and expectant parents to ensure they have the resources and tools necessary to give their infant the best start in life. The case workers on our Foster Care team find stability, safety, and love for children in difficult times.

Intact Family Services Team

And the case workers in Intact Family Services work diligently with families at risk of having their children placed into foster care, helping them create and support a safe, stable family environment. These case workers are very good at what they do, too. 90% of families in the program finish intact. 

We typically serve around 90 families each year through Intact Family Services, helping them to make lasting changes. One year after finishing the program, 96% of these families won’t have any further reports of abuse or neglect. 

The case workers in Intact Family Services also embody the ideals of social work, providing whatever preventative services are necessary to prevent disruption in the lives of children. The reward for their efforts is witnessing families healing, learning, and providing a safe, loving home for their children. 

Happy National Social Work Month to all of our amazing social workers!

Connecting parents to community resources via Healthy Start

Healthy Start staff at the Read across America

Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana was recently filled with books, activities, and fun as the community gathered for the annual Read across America event. The Baby Fold’s Healthy Start Champaign County team joined in the celebration of reading by passing out literacy-themed coloring books and crayons to local children. They also consulted with parents, addressing any identified needs by connecting them to local resources.

Healthy Start is an early intervention program that is creating safe, loving homes for children. Our family support specialists walk alongside new and expectant parents, answering questions and making sure both parents and baby are set up for success. Knowing that bonding to baby is crucial for healthy child development, our team members model positive parenting skills and bring tools, tips, and resources to aid parents and build loving foundations for children.

Events like the one held at Lincoln Square Mall are just one way the Healthy Start staff share their expertise with even more parents and community members. After all, when families are healthy, so is our community. 

Healthy Start Champaign County will be out helping the community again on April 4, 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., as part of a Toddler Time event at Soccer Planet. Our family support specialists will be conducting developmental screenings for toddlers and talking with parents about community resources. The event also features free play time for children 0 to 5 and a resource fair for parents. See chambanamoms.com for more information.

Blessing children with a good night's sleep

construction demonstration

It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when you don’t have a bed to sleep in. And it’s hard to do well in school without rest. 

The Title Team at Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Bloomington—a group of teachers who work with students struggling with literacy skills—wanted to work toward solving that sleep problem for their students, and they were also looking for a volunteer opportunity for the school. They reached out to Robert Bosquez to plan a Bed Blitz. Bosquez is the co-founder of Bed Blitz and a volunteer with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP). 

WBRP donated the materials to make 10 bed frames, and last month Bosquez helped as the Title Team and school volunteers built the beds for students.

Donation table

Prior to the Bed Blitz event, the Title Team also reached out to Cindy Rodgers, The Baby Fold’s Community Schools Coordinator at Cedar Ridge, to help identify students and families who would benefit from the beds. 

The Community Schools program brings together all of the stakeholders in a child’s life—school, family, and community—and provides a structure to create and achieve a shared vision for each child. The program ensures that barriers to learning are removed and that resources are maximized. 

signs at the Bed Blitz

Donations through both WBRP and The Baby Fold provided each child with other essentials for their new bed frame, including a mattress (through a WBRP/Bed Blitz partnership with Sherman's), sheets, a handmade quilt, laundry detergent, books, and a teddy bear. To help ease stress on the families, Rodgers also offered a variety of hygiene and household items during the event. These items were provided to The Baby Fold by community donors.

Following the Cedar Ridge Bed Blitz, volunteers delivered the new beds to each home. Ten community children slept better that night with fewer worries on their young minds.

Thank you to the Cedar Ridge Title Team, Bed Blitz, WBRP, and our donors for helping Cedar Ridge students rest well and learn well!

Bed Blitz volunteers
Spring into Action

We’re springing into action at The Baby Fold! Join us in welcoming springtime and honoring Autism Acceptance Month and Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month by taking part in one of our fun spring events. 100% of the proceeds from these events help the children and families served by The Baby Fold.

Spring into Action centerpiece

Spring Décor Silent Auction

Our Spring Décor Silent Auction is a fun online auction featuring custom-made spring wreaths and centerpieces just in time for Easter! Every bid gives kids a brighter future. Your bid or donation allows over 1,200 children and families to receive the love and care needed to be their best selves.

The auction is open for preview now! Bidding begins at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 27, and ends at Noon on Thursday, March 30. Auction items will be available for pick-up from Noon to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, at our new location at 1701 W. Market Street in Bloomington. 

Click here to preview auction items
Easter Egg Hunt

Easter Baskets of Blessings  

Easter is a time for renewal, growth, and hope. You can provide hope to children this spring by adopting Baskets of Blessings. Each basket will be filled with hand-selected items to support our children; items range from course materials for special education classrooms to sensory items to help children on the autism spectrum self-regulate. Whether the items are for newborns or teens, each basket provides kids and families with the resources they need to heal, grow, and learn.

Click here to learn more about Baskets of Blessings

ABC Run/ Walk

Ready, set, RUN for Kids! For 18 years, community-minded friends have supported our children by organizing ABC (Adventures Benefiting Children) Runs. ABC Runs were started by the Lake Run Club's Merlin and Meg Anderson and continue in Meg's honor. To date, the runs have raised $32,574 for the children of The Baby Fold. 

You are invited to join us for a 3- or 6-mile run/walk starting at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 8. The event begins and ends at The Baby Fold’s location at 108 E. Willow St. in Normal.

Click here to support the run virtually
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