Superintendent Keisha Campbell cuts a ribbon in front of the new Bridges Transition Center with wooden scissors to commemorate the official opening. (Finnegan Belleau)
Superintendent Keisha Campbell cuts a ribbon in front of the new Bridges Transition Center with wooden scissors to commemorate the official opening. (Finnegan Belleau)

Community celebrates opening of Bridges Transition Center, a building for special education students

November 18, 2021

Members of the Elmhurst community gathered on Monday to celebrate the grand opening of the Bridges Transition Center, a place where qualifying special education students can learn essential life skills from ages 18 to 22. 

The transition program existed for many years before the opening of the new building, but was based in several properties in Elmhurst that were being rented out. The location for the new building was purchased by Elmhurst CUSD 205 from the Elmhurst Park District. In what was formerly The Abbey, a senior center, the new building was constructed to meet the specific needs of the transition program.

“The collaboration and partnership that took place between the Park District and District 205 was so important, because we both serve the community,” superintendent Keisha Campbell said. “It really elevates our shared commitment to serving both our school community and community at large.”

The new building features a wide open space for collaboration, several stoves, washing machines, exercise equipment and a variety of other rooms and appliances designed to help teach special education students life skills they will need moving into adulthood. One of the most impactful new additions is a staff wing, which was absent in previous locations. 

“There used to be no security to any of our spaces, but now we have a nice secure entrance so people who come don’t walk right into an instructional space,” case manager Steve Westendorf said. “How it works is students have their two-thirds of the building and we have our third of the building; it’s nice in that it has a division that keeps everybody safe.”

The instructional area, which makes up the majority of the building, has a large kitchen area where students can learn to cook using ingredients that they go out and shop for with teachers.

Community members tour the instructional area building during its official opening ceremony on Monday. To the right are stovetops and ovens where students can practice cooking. (Finnegan Belleau)

“I might help some of the students a little bit if they need it, but for the most part they’re doing it all on their own,” instructor Hal Metzger said. “They’re really just learning a lot of everyday life skills. The classes teach them things like how to balance checkbooks, and all of the basics like that.”

The staff at the transition center makes a point to care for the specific needs of all students. While some require more help based on their disability, others are able to attend part time, and even leave early for jobs.

“I’ve been at Jewel-Osco for two years; I got the job after all the York football games were over, and I kind of needed something to do to fill my time,” student Paul Attanasio said. “My parents say that I’m too sociable of a person to just sit home all day. The people here at the transition center like Justin [Olson], our vocational coordinator have helped out with the process a lot.”

Despite being open to students and staff for over a week, the official ceremony took place this past Monday. Several members of the community, including the families of attending students as well as administrators joined for the ribbon cutting. After words from administrators as well as parents and students, people were invited inside to tour the new building. 

“It’s really amazing, this brand new facility, it was built specifically for our special education students’ needs and growth,” father Robert Meagher said. “They’ve got the basketball court outside that they’re all excited about; I think it’s just a whole different attitude that helps these kids catapult into whatever their needs are and then what they want to do with the rest of their lives as they grow into adulthood.”

Meagher has a son named Max, who has recently graduated from York and qualified for the transition center. Meagher hopes that during his time in the program, his son as well as the rest of the students can learn life skills essential to surviving as an adult. 

 

Transition center student Max Meagher enjoys a meal from Chipotle. Those involved in the program practice real life skills such as shopping at restaurants or grocery stores as part of their schedule. (Finnegan Belleau)

“This program is so important because once our kids are done with the transition center and the school system, they’re on their own like everybody else,” Meagher said. “They’re not going to be put out on their own, they’ll still be with their parents or their caretakers, but it is going to allow them to have a great base before they turn 22. That’s why this is so important, to set them in the right direction.”

Parents like Meagher are hopeful about the new opportunities presented to their children by the transition program. The people involved, ranging from families, administrators and staff members, anticipate that the establishment of the new building is just the first step in improving the special education program in Elmhurst.

“I just want to thank the collective efforts of everyone including the parents, the faculty and our taxpayers,” Campbell said. “This is an example of a collective effort to come together, and I think that this demonstrates the strength and the pride in District Community 205.” 

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