WDSRA 40th Anniversary

Michelle Anderson can run the track, shoot hoops on the court and strike a pose in yoga class thanks to the Naperville Park District and the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, or WDSRA.

It’s a partnership that began in 1976, and allows people with special needs to be included in park district and original programs with resources specifically tailored to their needs.

“It can be anything from an adaptive piece of equipment, it can be just us going in and training the staff a bit about how to restructure the program so they can be successful, or it could be they need one on one assistance and that’s what we provide, whatever their needs are, that’s what we provide for someone to be successful with recreation,” said Sandy Gbur, Executive Director of the WDSRA.

And thanks to the program, the 22-year-old with Down Syndrome has been participating in sports, social clubs, and outings with the group since she was three years old.

“I think Michelle being able to go with her friends and be in a place with people that have a vision to make it fun, sociable experience is a very valuable thing for everything and I know it works for Michelle,” said Gail Anderson, Michelle’s mom.

And they’ve been able to see that vision grow throughout the WDSRA’s 40 years.

Recently the Naperville Park District opened their Fort Hill Activity Center, a space that could be used by the WDSRA with an emphasis on serving those with special needs.

“They don’t want to be treated different and they do want to be part of the community and this building here, a park district here is a safe space, a fun safe space, and so having those with special needs here, working side by side on the track, in the gym, wherever they’re at, helps them feel more inclusive in the community than being separated out, it certainly brings the community even tighter,” said Ray McGury, Executive Director of the Naperville Park District.

Offering upwards of 1,000 programs and serving those from ages one to 89, there’s no shortage of ways for people with special needs to get involved and be included.

“Special recreation actually becomes peoples’ lives because they don’t have the opportunity necessarily to connect with friends outside of special recreation. It truly is life for them, it’s the opportunity to have friends and to socialize and do fun things and get out and be healthy and to feel part of the community,” said Gbur.

As for Michelle, she’s already thinking of more WDSRA programs she can participate in.

“I’ve got a lot up here,” said Michelle.

The WDSRA partners with nine park districts throughout the western suburbs to offer programming.

Naperville News 17’s Alyssa Bochenek reports.

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