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Cruz Villarreal (left) and Luke Rowen got a lift in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to their Little League game. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Cruz Villarreal (left) and Luke Rowen got a lift in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to their Little League game. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Block party raises money for center that services special needs kids

By Steve Metsch

Rides on a mechanical bull, a visit from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and plenty of hot dogs – of course – were part of a fundraiser held last month in the 5300 block of Ashland Avenue in Countryside.

Put together by the Villarreal and Rowen families, the goal was to raise money for the Center for Independence, 100 W. Plainfield Road, Countryside.

The Center provides services for children and young adults with special needs, organizer Monica Villarreal said after the June 23 event.

Villarreal is happy to report that her fundraising goal was easily surpassed.

“It’s looking like (we raised) over $2,600,” she said on June 24. “I was shooting for $1,000.”

Three years ago, Villarreal had applied to Oscar Mayer to have the Wienermobile visit her block. Earlier this year, she learned she had been chosen to receive that rare honor.

That got the ball rolling.

Villarreal’s son, Cruz, attends Spring Avenue School with his friend Luke Rowen, who has cerebral palsy.

“So, I called Luke’s mom (Lisa Rowen) and said, ‘Our family got selected for the Wienermobile. Let’s go ahead and make it a fundraiser for the Center for Independence’,” Villarreal said.

Lisa Rowen, of La Grange, said “it was kind of a block party that turned into a little fundraiser.”

Monica is such a neat person. She is always thinking of others,” Rowen said. “Everybody in our area knows Luke is involved with the Center. Why not turn this into something more? … It snowballed from there.”

Samantha Bondi, the development director at the Center for Independence, was pleased to learn of the donation, saying “that will make a huge difference.”

“We help children and young adults to promote an ‘I can’ attitude, to promote self-esteem, self-confidence,” Bondi, of Westmont, said.

“We provide therapy programs that focus on intensive motor training for children and adults with physical disabilities, primarily cerebral palsy,” Bondi said.

The Center has three locations and serves about 250 children and young adults annually, Bondi said. Luke has been a client for several years.

Luke, 11, is doing well, his mother said.

“It’s been a journey and he’s come really far,” Rowen said. “It took about three years to get a diagnosis. … The Center has been great.”

Luke plays baseball and soccer. He is mainstreamed in school.

“When he was born, they thought he’d never walk or talk,” Rowen said. “That’s how far he’s come. He tries to do it all. It’s awesome.”

Luke and Cruz are entering the sixth grade this fall. They play for the same La Grange Little League team.

“And the Wienermobile dropped them off at their baseball game (on June 23),” Villarreal said.

She and Rowen bought all the food. A hot dog, chips and drink meal sold for $5 with all proceeds donated.

The many friends and neighborhood kids who attended had a great time riding the mechanical bull rented from Chicago Moonwalks, Villarreal said.

“None of the adults went on (the bull),” she said. “I think all of us wanted to be able to walk around today.”

dvn countryside fundraiser2

A neighborhood girl does her best to stay atop a mechanical bull during a fundraiser in Countryside.

1 Comment

  1. s. svec on July 21, 2021 at 3:40 am

    Center for independence is for (only) physically disabled children. Not children that do have special needs. A developmentally disabled child would probably not be given independent living skills since they will always be dependent on someone to provide daily needs. Allowing publications to provide credence that special needs children all fall into one category is unfair to children that will never have the independence that the children attending this organization an aspire to live.



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