St. Coletta's of Illinois
In 1941, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi founded St. Coletta’s, a school for boys with disabilities located in Longmont, Colorado. With a growing number of boys residing at and attending the school, expansion was needed. In 1948 word was given that the Longmont School would be transferred to Palos Park, Illinois, to be closer to the motherhouse located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In 1949, Archbishop of Chicago Samuel Cardinal Stritch commissioned the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi to open St. Coletta’s of Chicago in Palos Park. St. Coletta’s was to be a school for developmentally disabled children ages 6-21. This location consisted of a residential and educational facility made up of an old farmhouse on 53 tree-covered acres. We broke ground later that year to begin building our campus.
In 1952, through a grant of $1.25 million from the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, construction of three additional residential cottages and a foodservice building was completed. In recognition of this generous gift, the school was renamed the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. School for Exceptional Children.
In 1963, The Kennedy Training Center opened as a job training center for our school graduates and to provide vocational training to adults with developmental disabilities.
In 1990, in order to provide the least restrictive lifestyles possible for the children and adults in St. Coletta's care, the process of de-institutionalization began. The Kennedy School was relocated to a vacant public school building in Palos Hills. Residents moved from dormitories on the Palos Park Campus to various group homes in the southwest suburbs and participated in community and park district activities. The Vocational Training Program moved to a rented industrial facility in Bedford Park, providing vocational evaluation, pre-employment training, work adjustment training, occupational skills training, job placement and supported employment to all consumers for an hourly wage. In 1991 an Intermediate Care Facility was established for our individuals who required more structure and support.
In 1992-93, St. Coletta’s opened the Caritas Children's Center, the Kowalis Children's Center, and the Transitional Treatment Program serving infants, toddlers and adolescents, respectively, to provide services to children who had been removed from their families by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as a result of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or drug exposure. These programs were closed due to DCFS philosophy changes over time.
St. Coletta's expanded its residential program in 1996 with the opening of the Zolecki Developmental Center to include individuals who are both mentally and physically challenged.
St. Coletta’s moved to its current location in Tinley Park in 2001. This building was planned, designed, and constructed for people with developmental disabilities in mind and is home to the school and workshop as well as the administrative offices. Support services including psychologists, clinical therapists, social workers and nurses are on staff. By this time we had 22 group homes and apartments throughout the south suburbs of Chicago for our residents. In 2004, an addition to the Administrative Complex was dedicated which included additional school and workshop classrooms, computer lab, gym, warehouse, storage, laundry and kitchen facilities, loading dock, and maintenance operations. An outdoor recreational area was completed the following year, and technology was added through computers, software and cameras for use throughout the facility.
In 2006, they opened two CILA’s for our non-ambulatory program.
St. Coletta's continue to expand and provide new opportunities, programs and experiences to assist in challenging our clients to be as independent as possible. They have recently added several new adult programs, including a Fitness and Nutrition Program, and business services such as our Janitorial Training Program, Culinary Arts Training Program, Crossing Corners Bakery, and much more.
The future of St. Coletta's and the future of the children and adults entrusted to its care depend on the continued growth of the organization. The St. Coletta's of Illinois Board of Directors is totally committed to continuing community integration. In October of 2014, St. Coletta’s purchased its 27th group home!
Great things are never accomplished by dreaming small!