Turning Pointe foundation celebrates 15 years of serving families dealing with autism
When Kim and Randy Wolf, Naperville parents of 9-year-old Jack, dreamed of a place where their son could learn and thrive, they never imagined that 15 years later that dream would have turned into Turning Pointe Autism Foundation, which today hosts a day school for 50 students from elementary to high school, respite services, and the Foglia Family Adult Services with supported and independent employment programs serving up to 20 adults annually.
But in 2007, based on successful interventions that had made a "life-changing" difference in their son, and helped him to progress from isolation and destructive behaviors to connectedness and an engaged future, the Wolfs recruited a board of directors made up of other families, subject matter experts and community leaders to incorporate Turning Pointe Autism Foundation as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Over the ensuing years, what began as a backyard camp for a handful of youngsters with severe autism whose needs could not be met through the public schools moved into a townhouse campus in South Naperville with programming developed and funded through a $1 million grant from the Canadian National Railroad.
By 2012, in partnership with Walgreens, Dan Wolf Auto Group, and the community, Turning Pointe moved its Therapeutic Day School into the old Naperville Sun Publications building on Ogden Avenue in Naperville. Over the years, the facility has gone from one classroom to ten, as well as three sensory rooms, an occupational therapy gym, lunchroom, staff prep and meeting area and lounge, nurse's office, and administrative offices. Today, preliminary plans are in place to expand the campus facility by developing some outdoor experiential gardens and an adapted playground.
The Therapeutic Day School for students ages 5 to 22 is now serving students from 26 school districts and is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The program offers student personalized courses similar to those they would be offered by their home school districts, but with intensive individual attention, modifications, accommodations and greater structure. Parents receive quarterly report cards and participate in conferences as well as Individual Educational Plan (IEP) meetings. Current program evaluations indicate that 81% of all students are on track to meet their IEP goals.
"It truly is a turning point when we can get these kids, in the earlier the better," says founder Kim Wolf. "We can give them support to have the best life possible, so they can be productive and feel good about themselves."
This interdisciplinary approach supports the core challenges of autism spectrum disorders through evidence-based practices that help students develop skills and enhance personal talents and strengths as they navigate toward independent, thriving futures.
"One of the things that make Turning Pointe strong is that we recognize the unique gifts in each of our students," says Executive Director Carrie Provenzale. "Each student's individualized team works to bring out the best in our kids. Then once students develop stronger communication and independence, we see their confidence rise and all the big changes follow for our families."
In 2012, when the program moved from south Naperville to Ogden Avenue, the organization began an employment readiness program alongside the Therapeutic Day School. The program would form the foundation for a more robust training and employment program to come. To date, 32 companies have hired graduates of its employment camps and college-like programs. Turning Pointe currently employees four graduates as well.
Beginning in 2013, renovations to the old Naperville Sun building began to create ideal learning spaces for students. Today, 8,500 of the 34,000 square feet of learning space has been fully remodeled. By 2015, as students began to age out of the high school program, Transitions classrooms were opened to accommodate student over the age of 18.
Community and grant support made continued growth of both programming and facilities possible, and by 2017 Turning Pointe received the first of its 4-Star Charity Navigator designations. This highest vote of confidence in fundraising would be repeated annually over the next four years. Today, 82% of Turning Pointe donations go directly to student programming.
On the occasion of Turning Pointe's 10th anniversary, "Otis" became the school mascot. Named for Jack Wolf's service dog, a likeness of Otis was drawn by an autistic artist. Otis represents the loving, fierce loyalty of the team guiding our students every day. Today the costumed character of Otis is a calming and reassuring presence when he visits the school and meets students in their classrooms.
An Adult Day Pilot began in 2019 as the first of Turning Pointe's students aged out of the day school. The pilot saw these young adults move into paid employment through a partnership with Two Brothers Coffee Roasters, packaging coffee for area businesses the following year.
Today, Otis spirit wear is a popular item in the Made to Inspire Boutique, Turning Pointe's retail business, which provides training and employment to young adults who produce, package, and ship printed T-shirts, mugs, birdhouses, and coffee. In 2020, the Made to Inspire Boutique made the shift to online ordering, gaining a greater audience while meeting pandemic restrictions.
Meeting the challenge
The pandemic provided exceptional challenges to Turning Pointe, disrupting in-person individualized learning and socialization that is the very core of the program. Innovation would ensure that the organization would continue to find ways to serve.
In 2020, Turing Pointe was the first school of its kind to reopen in July by tenting the parking the lot and renting hand-washing stations. Determined to ensure continuity to the programming, the team offered exposure visits so students could see them in PPE. The return to school also provided much-needed respite to caregivers. While under mandates to limit indoor activities, the organization completed interior renovations of the final classrooms and specialty spaces.
Also, in spring of 2020, teammates secured telehealth certification from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to ensure if students received services via zoom it was standardized and effective. Later that year, IBCCES would also certify Turning Pointe as a Center for Autism. Certification provides referring families, clinicians, and professionals confidence that Turning Pointe meets high standards in competency in the field of autism services.
Like all schools, 2021 presented Turning Pointe a roller-coaster of COVID-19 operational guidelines and setbacks. Despite those, the school was able to open the first of two elementary classrooms, took its employment program for adults needing employment support online, and secured CARF accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities for its adult day pilot program. The organization was also able to take in several emergency placements to alleviate the effects of isolation on the growing number of homebound students and their families.
In 2021, Turning Pointe was able to deliver 145,000 minutes of speech therapy, 79,000 minutes of occupational therapy and 50,000 minutes of behavior therapy to 44 students. The school has over 85 employees who support students and families.
"Our 10-year-old son Gianni started at Turning Pointe in February of 2021," says his mother Lucia Roden. "Since then, we have seen dramatic changes in his overall behavior, attitude, and personality. All the activities he does at Turning Pointe are very hands-on and engaging and because of this, he can interact with others better. He has flourished in ways we always hoped for."
Today, in addition to their traditional program offerings, the school began social groups for adults monthly in April of 2022 and is striving to add enrichment programming including arts therapy, pet therapy and social outings.
Respite for families
In 2021, Turning Pointe's Respite Program was able to offer respite to families. "Respite is a time when our students can bond with staff while their families and be with peers in a more relaxed setting than school. Parents get time for themselves while knowing their children are in good hands," says Provenzale. "Most don't realize how isolated families can feel sometimes when providing care to their children profoundly impacted by autism. Some children are still learning how to access the community safely and appropriately."
Benet Academy has developed a Benet Buddies program, where their students volunteer at Turning Pointe to spend casual time with their peers. "This is a great opportunity for the Benet students to share time and interests our students, and vice versa. Both sets of students can teach each other beautiful values, " Provenzale says. "The laughter between the kids is heartwarming to see."
One of the participants in the Respite program is Dominic Pizzoferrato, 14. Dom is nonverbal, self-injurious, has autism and has a diagnosed seizure disorder. "About 3 years ago, Dominic's self-injurious behavior grew so severe, I knew the public schools could no longer keep him safe," says mom Gia. "Turning Pointe provides my son and me a safe haven and I can finally take a breath without fear for his safety. The respite program is a gift of fun and protection, the play dates he never got to go on. It's also a gift to my family, helping me be a better mom by spending one on one time with his brother, or even a few hours to find myself again."
In addition to support for students, families have the benefit of an on-staff Family Specialist who is dedicated to finding the best resources for families, whether they are candidates for Turning Pointe's programming or not. "We think of her as our Macy's Santa Clause" says Provenzale. "Like the movie "Miracle on 34th Street, our Family Specialist will find the right services for families even if they aren't available through us." The Turning Pointe website has an entire section developed to answer families' toughest questions regarding, diagnosis, therapies, health care, education, socialization, adult support and family life. The Family Specialist is also keeps her pulse on what is most needed for families communitywide, so that Turning Pointe can develop or expand programming to serve the community.
The Adult Day Pilot continues to grow, with partnerships and programs to help adult students gain skills-based employability training and opportunities for community-based internships. In 2021 10,809 packs of coffee were packaged and sold to support adult programming. Two Brothers added the packaging of K-Cups to their opportunities for Turning Pointe workers. Among the first of those employees is Jack Wolf. "Jack has grown so much, he's now in the adult program, " Kim Wolfe reports. "He's a happy 24-year-old. He's living his life the way any 24-year-old should." In the independent employment program, some 65 students have gone on to independent employment over the past ten years.
Turning Pointe Foundation's annual Pumpkin Race fundraiser returns to Rotary Hill in downtown Naperville on Saturday, Oct. 29.
- Courtesy of Turning Pointe
One of the catalysts for the vocational training program is the Turning Pointe Pumpkin Races, held each fall since 2016. This inclusive event serves as community outreach, engaging students, families, teammates in the design and racing of pumpkin "cars." Turning Pointe students pack race kits which include axles, wheels, hardware, decals, and instructions on how to build a "legal" vehicle suitable for competition.
The kits, packed and prepared for mailing by students in the Adult Day program, are available online and shipped all over the country. In 2021, kits went to over 20 states and raised over $10,000 in support of Turning Pointe Autism Foundation. To date in 2022, over 300 kits have sold in 12 states. This year's Pumpkin Race at Rotary Hill will be Saturday, Oct. 29. Learn more at turningpointeautismfoundation.org/pumpkin-race/.
Over 10,000 hours of volunteer support have helped make Turning Pointe Autism Foundation the success it is to date. Parents of students with autism make up over 50% of the board of directors. An active parent advisory board takes part in developing school improvement initiatives. Also serving the mission is a practice advisory council of experts in the field.
Randy Wolf, founder and Jack's dad, still serves as board chairman. "It's so humbling to see all those buses out in front of the school," he says. "To see all those smiling faces, to see all the staff- it puts a lump in your throat to realize we did all this."