There are few things I hate more than public speaking. However, on June 13 at the City Council meeting, even though the room was almost empty, my voice shook as I pleaded that the council reinstate the cuts made to the Firehouse Youth Center by the last administration.
These cuts included the middle school summer program and days off and early release supervision during the school year.
Why am I so passionate about the Firehouse? It accomplishes so much with so little. In the past decade, Highland Park has built huge glory projects such as the Water Park and Recreation Center. Now we are suddenly cost conscious when it comes to the services the Firehouse offers.
If you’ve been to the Firehouse, you’ll know that it is retro, charming and homey as opposed to sleek, modern and expensive. When you walk in, you feel the camaraderie among the middle schoolers the Youth Center serves. Whether these kids have decided to hang out there because they don’t want to be in an empty home after school, or their parents have decided they are not ready to go unsupervised, the Firehouse provides a laid back environment for kids to make the transition from grammar school coddling to high school independence.
My son Henry attends the Firehouse. Since Henry has autism, I met with two of the Firehouse staff members at the beginning of the year to discuss his needs. What was so refreshing was their positive attitude that he would fit in. There was no need to call in special facilitators or run tests. Everyone talks about seeing your child as a person and not a diagnosis, but the Firehouse staff naturally did just that.
I signed up for the Firehouse because of the homework help, but the social opportunities it offered were a dream come true. I can’t convey the elation I felt when I’d walk in to pick up Henry and would see him playing video games at age level with other kids. Whereas other parents detest video games, I praise them as the great equalizer for the uncoordinated child. Kids never wanted to have play dates with Henry since he is different, yet the youth center kids were playing with him because they enjoyed it. I still can’t get use to it.
Who else does the Firehouse serve besides one kid on the autism spectrum? Kids from Fort Sheridan, kids from English as a second language homes, single parent households and low, moderate, and middle-income families that really need this service in a tough economy.
What do I do next? I went to the City Council. I’ve written a guest editorial for the Patch. Would it help if I tied myself to the Firehouse or went on a hunger strike? Neither is plausible since Henry needs me and I failed Weight Watchers. I am at a loss.
If Character really Counts in Highland Park, then the Firehouse’s full services will be restored.