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New facility to prepare teens, adults with autism for careers

Naperville Mayor George Pradel cuts the ribbon to officially open the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation's Education and Career Development Center. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Naperville Mayor George Pradel cuts the ribbon to officially open the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation's Education and Career Development Center. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

When Randy Wolf learned his son Jack had been diagnosed with autism, questions started flooding his thoughts.

Where would he go to school? Would he ever have a job? Would he ever get married? Would he ever be able to say, ‘I love you’?

Randy and Kim Wolf, who founded the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation in 2007, aim to help families dealing with some of those same concerns through the group’s new Education and Career Development Center in Naperville.

The space, Randy Wolf said, is “a place to learn, a place to feel safe and a place for opportunities.”

Several hundred people turned out Thursday evening to celebrate the grand opening of the facility in the former Naperville Sun building at 1500 W. Ogden Ave., in close proximity to the Wolf family auto dealerships. (Photos: Turning Pointe celebrates new career center)

Turning Pointe partnered with OfficeMax and Walgreens to create mock stores and a mock warehouse in the center where it can train people with disabilities in job skills like stocking shelves and interacting with customers.

“The dream of bountiful employment should not be a dream for those impacted by autism,” Turning Pointe CEO Walter Johnson said. “It should be a reality that someone pays attention to early on and puts systems in place so that it can actually be accomplished.”

Carolynn Brooks, OfficeMax vice president and chief diversity officer, said the partnership was a good fit for the Naperville-based company, which is trying to increase its diversity in customers and associates alike.

“It appears a lot of people, able-bodied people take jobs for granted sometimes,” Brooks said. “I have found that people with disabilities are looking for an opportunity. They really make a contribution, their work ethic is stronger and they’re happy to be there. We really like to embrace them.”

The new Turning Pointe facility also houses office space and a recreation area to help children develop strength and coordination as well as social skills.

When it is completely built out, there will be classrooms for the group’s education program for children ages 9-15 who are “severely impacted” by autism, according to Johnson.

“In a way, the individuals that many others have given up on,” Johnson said. “We see that as our sweet spot.”

In addition, Turning Pointe has a residential component for adults at its south campus on Tramore Court that Johnson said will let families “know their kids are living somewhat independently, but with support.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates one in 88 children in the U.S. have some form of autism. Russ Paluch, president of the Turning Pointe board of directors, found himself asking many of the same questions as the Wolf family when he learned his own son Ben, now 10, was diagnosed.

Turning Pointe, he said, is aiming to “give our kids as much preparation, get them as independent as possible for life as an adult” and he feels the new center can help achieve that goal.

“This is designed to integrate our kids into the community and the community into our world too,” he said. “The more folks we can get together on that the better.”

Turning Pointe is still fundraising to complete its north campus. For more information about the group visit www.turningpointeaf.org or call 630-570-7948.

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