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Easter Seals Group Home Proposal Met with Opposition

Some Heritage Meadows homeowners voiced concerns about plans to bring a home for men with developmental disabilities to Plainfield.

plan commissioners were on board with a plan to bring an Easter Seals group home to the village, but their vote in favor of the proposal drew the ire of some residents who turned out to an Aug. 21 public hearing.

A few homeowners expressed disapproval as they left the boardroom following the commission’s 5-0 vote — including an older man who raised his middle finger at commissioners as he departed.

But most residents, many of whom live in the Heritage Meadows subdivision, were more measured in their reaction to Easter Seals’ plan to bring a group home to 24212 W. Apple Tree Lane.

The house, purchased by Easter Seals Joliet Region after it went into foreclosure, would provide a residence for six men between the ages of 34 and 57, all with varying degrees of cognitive disabilities. Two of the men are also blind, two are hearing impaired and one is in a wheelchair, according to Easter Seals Joliet Region President and CEO Debra Condotti.

Easter Seals serves people with disabilities and special needs, working to ensure they have “equal opportunities to live, learning, work and play in their communities.”

Planner Jonathan Proulx said the Fair Housing amendment to the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on disabilities or familial status.

Currently, there are two other group homes in residential neighborhoods in Plainfield, Proulx said, adding he cannot recall any issues or complaints from residents living adjacent to the homes

Condotti presented Easter Seals’ request for a special use permit for the home, which would be subject not only to local fire code and ordinances, but also federal and state requirements.

Condotti said caregivers, who are on duty 24 hours a day at Easter Seals’ group homes, face “stringent” training and certification requirements.

Some Heritage Meadows residents expressed concerns about the group home, citing safety issues. Several objected to a proposal that would convert the basement into bedrooms, saying it could post a fire hazard for residents.

Apple Tree Lane resident Tiffanie Sperling also said she believes renovations were started on the home before building permits were issued.

“I do not see how six adults and caregivers can possibly live there comfortably,” she said. “I just don’t feel they’ve done their due diligence.”

Some residents questioned whether the presence of a group home would drive down property values, while others expressed fears over the neighborhood’s safety.

“I am concerned about the safety and well-being of my three children,” said mom Amanda Czerwinski, noting her house is right next door to the proposed group home.

“If you had six people living next to your house and two little girls, how would you feel?” Czerwinski added, asking whether the residence could house people with psychiatric or behavioral problems.

Condotti said Easter Seals serves individuals with developmental challenges, not psychiatric issues.

“Easter Seals is not licensed to serve mentally ill people,” she said.

Condotti also responded to questions whether the group home could one day change hands to serve another purpose, such as becoming a halfway house for former prisoners or a home for recovering addicts. Easter Seals' special use permit would be non-transferrable, she said.

Apple Tree Lane resident Jake Chippas said some of the residents’ concern comes from a sense of uncertainty.

“Right now, a lot of this is fear of the unknown,” he said, asking whether Easter Seals could work to communicate with residents about what they can expect.

Showing support

But not everyone who spoke up during the Aug. 21 public hearing was there to voice opposition.

Heritage Meadows resident Krista Powley said she found out about the meeting on Facebook and showed up to support the group home.

“I have a son with a disability and every day I wake up and wonder, am I going to make enough money when I’m dead to take care of him?” she said, adding disabled individuals with no one to care for them can spend decades on waiting lists before getting into a home.

“[My son] is going to grow up here. If something happens to us, he’s going to want to stay here,” Powley said, adding people need to become educated about disabilities.

“It’s scary when somebody doesn’t look like you,” she said. “It’s scary when somebody doesn’t act like you … I welcome [the group home].”

Todd Funk admitted he doesn’t live near Heritage Meadows, but said he felt the need to voice his support.

Born with cerebral palsy, Funk said he benefitted from Easter Seals as a child.

“It’s some of the greatest staff and some of the greatest people that you’ll ever meet,” he said, adding the same goes for Easter Seals clients.

“I interacted with all the kids every day,” he said. “I’m 23 and they’re still affecting me … If you let them into your community, these are people that will really enrich your lives. It’s really an experience nobody should pass on.”

Chuck Corkery, former Heritage Meadows Homeowners Association president, called the plan “commendable.”

“It’s better than an empty unit,” he said. “Does that affect property value? Absolutely. I think this is a great idea.” 

‘A duty to look out for other human beings’

The group home would be the eighth for Easter Seals Joliet Region, replacing a residence that was established in the late 1980s but has since outgrown its usefulness, Condotti said.

The six men who would live there are current Easter Seals residents and already live together, she added.

With commissioners James Sobkoviak and Andrew Heinen absent, the remaining members voted unanimously to support the proposal — with the stipulation that Easter Seals be asked to erect a fence around the property.

That request came from homeowners association attorney Nick Nelson on behalf of Czerwinski, who said she also had concerns that blind group home residents could come into her backyard and fall into her above-ground pool.

“Typically, I support neighbors and what their concerns are,” commissioner Ed O’Rourke said. “Unfortunately, on this case, I feel a little bit differently — probably a lot of it is fear” on residents’ part, he said.

“I understand, it’s not my house next door,” O’Rourke said.

“ … I’m certainly not going to be the one going against federal law,” he said of the Fair Housing Act. “We have a duty to look out for other human beings and do what’s right.”

The plan commission’s recommendation will go to the village board.

A second public hearing on the proposal will be held before trustees vote on the proposal at their Sept. 17 meeting.

The Easter Seals proposal isn’t the only group home that has faced opposition in recent months. In June, some for developmentally disabled children to a Minooka subdivision.

LMS August 22, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Maybe if you contacted Debra Condotti of Easter Seals, or if she happens to stumble across this article and comments, you can find out why Easter Seals has chosen this particular delivery model for this particular group of people. As mentioned in the article, these specific people have already lived together in an Easter Seals group home. Considering each individual's needs and factoring in the role/s of the 24 hour a day caregivers Easter Seals has found this solution to be effective. From the information presented what would make you think "conveniently located" apartments are a better solution than what the professionals at Easter Seals have already successfully done, and have chosen to continue doing?
Miguel Sanchez August 22, 2012 at 10:43 PM
How big is your home and how many adults live in it? Furthermore, is your floor plan as flexible as adding to, or deducting from, a pool of rental units located near destinations commonly considered desirable. Examples include shopping, healthcare, and the grocers.
LMS August 22, 2012 at 10:55 PM
The logistics of my home have nothing to do with the logistics of a group home tailored around the unique needs of these men. The information shared was: six men between the ages of 34 and 57, all with varying degrees of cognitive disabilities. Two of the men are also blind, two are hearing impaired and one is in a wheelchair. My family doesn't share the makeup of this group. I seriously doubt my home shares the same floor plan as the proposed group home. Your question doesn't logically follow the course of the discussion. My home is big enough to suit my family and our needs, just as Easter Seals has decided the proposed group home suits their needs. I'm sure the decision to create a group home in this particular space wasn't taken lightly. The Easter Seals staff know what they're doing, including providing optimal shopping, healthcare, and groceries weighed along with multiple other considerations you, I, and most Patch commenters know nothing about.
Sarah Anderson August 23, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Thank you Jim!!! I am curious to learn how many of the residents against this home researched Easter Seals and it's SUCCESS stories. I am guessing NONE!!! Easter Seals does treat PSYCHIATRIC patients!! Once again if these folks did their research before flashing their middle finger they would get it!! But the class of individuals lacking the background knowledge do not have the cognitive ability to comprehend COMPASSION!!! Looking forward to my family being on the "MOVE IN CREW!!!" Shame on those of you that just don't get it and please MOVE!!!! Living in a FINISHED basement with the proper amenities will be just fine!!!! SERIOUSLY...the residents aren't locked down there and have food on a tray slid under the basement door!!!
Jim W August 23, 2012 at 04:43 AM
I have lived in Heritage Meadows, since 1999 and I welcome Easter Seals to my neighborhood. They will be much better neighbors that many who reside here currently. If anybody has a problem with Easter Seals having a group home in Heritage Meadows, do us all a favor and move away, preferably far, far away.
Jim W August 23, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Sarah, I think you mean does not treat PSYCHIATRIC patients. :-)
Melissa August 23, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Woooowwwwww! What comments!! My gosh. I live in the SAME floor plan house. I agree that having 8 adults in that home w the tools needed to move around will be tight. These folks may not have a lot of the "things" most of us have in our homes. These people are NOT "dangerous" for god's sake, they are disabled. My concern is that my home IS my #1 asset and given the "undertone" of having a group home in the immediate area of my property WILL have a financial impact.....more so than those who are commenting and live 2 streets over or better yet in an altogether different subdivision. This IS a FACT. Don't insult any of our intelligence by saying not. I don't care what the market is TODAY but I am concerned and HOPEFUL that it will be better in the near future (10yrs) as I'm sure ALL of us do. That being said, the Easter Seals is a non-profit org and therefore does not pay property tax. So my question is finally, what is their vested interest in keeping up the property since we have an association that doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground! I think this will be an adventure and anyone who takes the time to get to know these individuals will certainly have a change of heart. Don't be judgmental.
LMS August 23, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I've read one study showing group homes do not affect property values, but that study wasn't specific to Easter Seals or this particular situation so I don't know if the results can be generalized. Have you read studies proving causation between group homes and property values? It's not insulting anyone's intelligent to ask for facts versus emotion-based guesses. Many groups throughout history have been made to feel unwelcome due to the perception of declining property values. That's not an opinion I personally would advertise. Time will tell if the Easter Seals group keeps up their property as well as/better than the typical resident. Their vested interest= that house will be their home. If Amanda Czerwinski has her way the property will be fenced in at Easter Seals' expense. Apparently homeowners association attorney Nick Nelson made that magic happen. If he can push that vile condition through (did I mention EASTER SEALS has to pay for the fence due to this woman's alleged concern over her pool that should already be neighborhood-safe?) then surely the association can make sure the grass gets mowed, etc. Many people are closely watching this issue, not only because the reaction of some residents has been appalling but many of us have disabled children that may someday need similar housing. The issue is not insular to Heritage Meadows. I get that you are supportive with questions. I'm 100% with you on the "Don't be judgmental" front.
RB August 23, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I welcome Easter Seals and hope they succeed here. Caring for disable people is a very demanding activity but also a very noble one. I don’t have the time or resources to help but have a great appreciation for the people that can dedicate their lives to make other people lives better. I just don’t see how it can negatively affect neighbors.
Janet August 23, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Amanda did not suggest the fence. The Plainfield board suggested the fence as a safety option to for both the six residents who will be living in the proposed home and the young children living next door. Get the facts straight. Her concern was that these individuals may have behavior problems which might pose a threat to her children. When asked what cognitive impairment the individuals suffered from, a definitive answer was not really given. Residents of the neighborhood had a right to know that information. This is not to say that Ms.Czerwinski would not welcome persons with disabilities living next to her. Her concern was for both parties. It is not right to blast someone on this post for just asking questions of concern that she had the right to know. Behavioral problems can mean anything. And if I had 3 children under the age of 5, I would want to know what is living next door to me too.
LMS August 23, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I got the facts, as reported, straight from the article: "That request came from homeowners association attorney Nick Nelson on behalf of Czerwinski, who said she also had concerns that blind group home residents could come into her backyard and fall into her above-ground pool." If Amanda wants a fence Amanda should build one, not sap Easter Seals funds. If Easter Seals want the fence that's a different story. Any of your neighbors might have behavior problems which might pose a threat. Amanda and her children might have behavior problems which might pose a threat to the Easter Seals home residents. Did any of the group home's future neighbors make full medical disclosure to put Easter Seals at ease? You have no right to a "definitive answer" regarding the cognitive impairments of total strangers. Also, what power does this proposed fence have to guard against whatever it is you're afraid of? "Just asking questions of concern" doesn't end with limited Easter Seals funds being spent to placate one vocal person at the request of a home association lawyer. Unless you're asserting the information in this article is false. Cognitive disabilities do not equal behavioral problems. It's already been stated the men don't have psychiatric issues. Offensive ignorance such as this results in comments such as mine. Please don't play victim. You would want to know "what" is living next door to you? Enough said.
Jim W August 23, 2012 at 11:03 PM
They are people, not a "what". I hope you meant to say "who"...
Lynne August 24, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Do all these residents who support the home live near the home???? What happened to mother's right to protect her children??? As for the term Cognitive disabled is just a nicer term for mentally disabled are one in the same in the medical field. According to educated medical field an IQ of 70 and below is considered mild to profoundly mental retardation, also skills needed to live independently are as follows: Daily living skills,such as getting dressed, using the bathroom and feeding oneself, communications skills: understanding what is being said and being able to answer. And being as the state issues ssi to these patient's they see a state medical doctor who in turn has them on antipsychotics, antidepressents just to name a few to control uncontrollable outburst, inappropriate touching of oneself (fill in the blank) and other's. And they are going to put blind, deaf, wheelchair bound, mentally disabled in bedrooms in the basement??? How are they going to know how to pull out the escape window and climb up out of a window well??? Who is the ignorant one now????? Safety is a issue. Not a suitable home for 6 adult males with such disabilities. A skilled facility is more appropriate for their many special needs.
Janet August 24, 2012 at 01:38 AM
LMS, I just read back on some of your obnoxiously false comments pertaining to Czerwinski. Where you even at the meeting at all? I am quite taken back by the illegitimacy of your assumptions that when compared to the public record hold no resemblance of truth and accuracy.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 01:59 AM
The only comments I've made pertaining to Czerwinski are from information taken directly from the article. Is the information in the article correct? If not, what corrections would you like to make?
Janet August 24, 2012 at 02:06 AM
At the meeting the spokesperson for Easter Seals stated that some of the cognitively impaired individuals that will be living in the home may have behavioral issues. It is public record. Czerwinski merely asked what do those behavioral issues consist of. That was the point of having a public meeting to discuss these issues and to ease the fear of the unknown. Czerwinski conducted herself in a professional and compassionate way. The article is misleading. She did not go up there and ask for a fence. It was suggested by a board member as a solution that would keep potential problems from occuring in her yard. It was her right to ask questions about the safety of her children after it was admitted by the spokesperson that behavioral problems may occur from time to time. Who wouldn't want to know that? There are a lot of assumptions and inaccurate information in this blog. And it is not right to blast someone for asking questions about the individuals who will be living in a group home next to their place of residence. That was the point of the meeting! Rather than making false claims, perhaps it would be better to be informed with the facts before making offensive and inaccurate assumptions.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Educate yourself regarding cognitive deficits and the competency of Easter Seals and their caregivers. And building codes. And what "no psychiatric issues" means. And the Fair Housing amendment to the Civil Rights Act. Bottom line, the group home residents have the right to live there. If you don't like it do what people do when they don't like their neighbors: Move.
Janet August 24, 2012 at 02:18 AM
You stated, "If Amanda Czerwinski has her way the property will be fenced in at Easter Seals' expense..." and If Amanda wants a fence Amanda should build one, not sap Easter Seals funds." That is very offensive seeing that the suggestion of a fence was presented by a board member as a possible solution and not Amanda's initial idea, as you are suggesting. Amanda's motive for asking questions was not to "sap" a fence. It was to find out more about the potential individuals who will be residing next to her home. And for you to make this article be more about Amanda and less about the positive outcome of the meeting is negligent.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Amanda (a complete stranger to me) only factors into my thoughts as a potential drain (or, at the very least, a strong contributing factor towards a drain) on Easter Seals resources. Read the whole thread--carefully--if you've come to the erroneous idea this person has been the main topic of discussion. Individuals' opinions on the group home won't make or break the project. The fence is worthy of further consideration, though. I don't care whose "initial idea" it was, unless it was suggested and/or embraced by Easter Seals themselves. If Easter Seals chooses to build a fence, great. If they're pressured into spending funds on a fence they don't want or need, that's terrible.
Janet August 24, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Easter Seals seemed to embrace it. It is also terrible to make false accusations without having the facts that put others in a negative light. You obviously weren't at the meeting. So this discussion is indeed pointless.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 03:23 AM
False accusations? For the millionth time, I responded to the information in the article written by the editor of the Patch, and disputed by you. No, I wasn't at the meeting. I read this article. I look forward to follow-up meetings and articles, and any emotionally charged "clarifications" you rain down on the conversation.
Melissa August 24, 2012 at 12:59 PM
I agree with Janet. Perhaps you should check what you think are facts with the editor. Perhaps the editor mis-interperated some things. After all this was videoed. Since you were not there, take the time to watch it with the editor for further clarification. Easter Seals is asking for the provision, therefore they should absolutely pay for the fence.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I've already asked the editor for clarification. Do you tell all commenters to watch videotaped meetings with the editor, or just me? Easter Seals should pay for fences they want and/or need, just like any other property owner.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I've heard back from Ms. Antinori and she confirms the validity of this article. Good enough for me. (I'm only adding this last comment to prevent confusion among other Patch readers. The facts in the article are correct, and apparently Melissa can direct you a video if you have doubts.)
Shannon Antinori (Editor) August 24, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Just to be clear, the suggestion for the fence did not come from Easter Seals. Mr. Nelson did, in fact, ask the board to include that stipulation in their recommendation due to some of the concerns regarding the proximity of the Easter Seals home to Ms. Czerwinski's property and backyard swimming pool (Ms. Czerwinski had noted that her yard is not fenced and this was a concern for her, especially given the fact that some of the Easter Seals residents are blind). When asked by the board of commissioners if Easter Seals would be willing to erect a fence, Ms. Condotti did agree. And yes, I'm sure all of this is evident on the video of the meeting.
Melissa August 24, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Did you get that LMS? I'm sure if you contact the Village, they can direct you to the channel the video will be on. I'm sure they can even give you the date/time it will or has run. Just wanted to make sure you get a chance to see what you missed.
Janet August 24, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Nowhere in the article does it state that Ms Condotti stated at the meeting that the cognitive disabilities of these six men include the possibility of behavioral problems. The author merely mentions that these individuals are physically disabled and free from any psychiatric issues. The author never mentioned the possibilities of behavioral problems associated with this group home. That part of the public record was conveniently left out of the article. Of course these men have a right to live there and be treated fairly. Part of the condition of approval of group homes is that they blend into the community. If putting up a fence prevents cognitively challenged individuals prone to behavior outbursts from entering into neighbor's yards, then the burden of facilitating that need should come on the behalf of the organization, which in this case is Easter Seals. And as I stated previously, Easter Seals welcomed that suggestion without a problem. It seemed to make both parties content and ready to move forward. But to say that Ms Czerwinski was trying to "sap" a fence, was just plain ignorance and a lack of knowledge of the public record. The organization is responsible for the welfare of their subjects and the welfare of the residences. But lets stop distorting the truth here. Its odd, LMS, that someone can have so much to say without having attended the meeting.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Every man, woman, and child in all of our neighborhoods has the possibility of behavior problems. When I watch the video/check out public record will I see/hear Ms. Condotti stating that the men are, and I quote you here, "prone to behavior outbursts"? Will I hear Ms. Condotti state that any reasonably anticipated behaviors are beyond the scope of what their caregivers can handle, and the fence will prevent the men from doing whatever it is you fear they will do? Does the possibility for "behavior problems" (are you aware how vague, all-inclusive, and practically meaningless this term is?) prevent the men from "blending into the community" because everyone else in the neighborhood behaves at an optimal level all the time? (Those questions are rhetorical, unless you answer for the sake of future readers/posters. I'm done trying to explain 2+2=4 to you.) We'll have to agree to disagree that only commenters who physically attend meetings summarized in news articles should share opinions in public forums. It's impossible to sap a fence. My best guess is that Amanda is your favorite neighbor, very best friend, daughter, or something similar and that has you going all claws-out MAMA TIGER on me. I stand by my opinions, and look very forward to seeing the video and/or checking out the public record. You say I made this about Amanda? I didn't, but you sure have. That in itself is grossly unfair to the writer of the article and the Easter Seals group.
LMS August 24, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Thanks for making sure I didn't miss that comment written by Shannon Antinori that supports what I've said in previous comments. I'm not sure why your tone is "nyah nyah LMS!!!!", but yeah...okay. I look very forward to seeing representatives from Heritage Meadows share their views on inclusiveness.
Leslie Ann September 18, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Reading these posts I am saddened that we would speak so negatively or be so FEAR based that we would oppose something so generous and kind as to give human beings a HOME. We are more kind to neglected animals than we are to human beings. We worry about our property values, when we should be worrying about these men who have not had a stable home. What if you had children that were blind or deaf wouldn't you want them cared for properly when they became adults? Wouldn't you be horrified to read these posts that were about your adult children? Most of us are giving and kind in this world let's show the Patch Readers you exist.

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