When you visit the Dogwood Garden & Pet Center, there’s a good chance that Brian, a Lambs Farm Participant, will greet you with a big smile.
Brian at the Dogwood Garden & Pet Center
Brian has worked in the Pet Center for an impressive 25 years, and he truly loves his job. He spends his work days keeping the store spotless and giving love to every puppy who stays at Lambs Farm until they find their forever home. “Dogs make me happy,” Brian said. “They’re my favorite part about my job.”
Brian creates bonds with the puppies, but he is ecstatic when families leave with one of his buddies in their arms. In fact, Brian enjoys helping customers through the adoption process.
In August, Kelly Fojtik and her family adopted their Labrador Retriever Mix, Leia, who is now Clover. “Brian said Leia (Clover) was the best dog and to get her,” Kelly said. “We are so grateful to him and will always remember that he steered us towards her.”
Clover is grateful, too. She loves her new family and is always the life of the party. The Fojtik’s look forward to all the future memories with Clover by their side. “We will always care well for her and think fondly of Lambs Farm,” Kelly said.
The enthusiasm, attitude and joy Brian brings to the Dogwood Garden & Pet Center is what our Co-Founders envisioned when they opened the original Pet Shop on State Street in 1961. They would be incredibly proud.
In honor of the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary, Mike, a well-rounded athlete, reflects on his accomplishments since joining Lambs Farm in 1984.
“My life has changed since I started competing,” Mike said. “I’ve been playing sports for as long as I’ve been at Lambs.”
Mike at World Games in 1995
When he first moved to Lambs Farm, the Recreation Manager introduced Mike to daily exercise and track. Ever since his first competition, he’s been interested in developing new skills in a variety of sports. He discovered a love for tennis, and in 1995 qualified for the Ninth Special Olympics World Games in New Haven, Connecticut. He competed with 7,000 athletes from 143 countries and left victorious. He was the first Lambs Farm athlete ever to bring home a shiny bronze medal from an international competition.
Mike and his dedication to Special Olympic sports continued to grow as the years went on. About ten years ago, he decided to join the golf team. It was much to his surprise that he would do something most golfers never achieve in their lifetime. On May 6, 2010, Mike shot a hole-in-one at the Vernon Hills Golf Course during Special Olympics practice. “I was ecstatic,” Mike said. “I was the first Participant to make a hole-in-one and everyone was happy for me.”
Mike with his hole-in-one plaques
A year later, on May 5, 2011, Mike did it again. He shot a 199-yard hole-in-one at the same course. Those dates will always have a special place in his heart. He thinks about the exciting moments every time glances at his plaques and Biggest Achievement trophies he received for two consecutive hole-in-ones.
Today, Mike continues to pursue his Special Olympic dreams. He still participates in track and golf but added softball, floor hockey, snowshoeing, basketball, bocce and bowling to his list of activities. His involvement has earned him Athlete of the Year three times, and he proudly decorates his apartment with his giant medal collection.
Mike is happy to come back to Lambs Farm with new hardware after competitions, but he loves the opportunity to practice with his friends and create memories when traveling. “Life would sure be boring without Special Olympics,” Mike said. “I love the staff, volunteers and all the people I get to meet.”
Mike is one of many athletes at Lambs Farm who is proud to honor the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary. July 20 marks the official birthday, but our Participants celebrate the opportunity to explore their talents every time they grab a ball, high-five a teammate or step onto a field.
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The Magnolia Cafe & Bakery is kicking off summer with a new line of FIT Meals. A FIT meal is a recipe that is under 500 calories, reduced in sodium, carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Most FIT meals have a focus on entree salads and vegetarian dishes.
FIT meals are complete with a side of fresh fruit and fresh brewed iced tea or coffee for just $5.99 – stop in today!
Keller Williams joined us for RED Day, their annual day of service, which stands for Renew, Energize and Donate. Their effort embodies Keller Williams generous spirit and commitment to giving back to the cities and towns they live and work in.
Staff purchased supplies to the Magnolia Cafe & Bakery, giving rooms a fresh paint job and updating the wall decor to give it a new and improved look. They helped prepare for the summer season by pulling weeds, trimming bushes, applying mulch, hanging flower baskets around the pergola and gazebo, as well as donating new red umbrellas for the restaurant.
We are honored they returned Lambs Farm for their special day, and we are incredibly grateful for their support.
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At age six, sign language was merely an interest for Sarah. Years later, her skill has given her the passion, determination and voice to speak on behalf of the special needs community at Lambs Farm and beyond.
Sarah’s story begins with Linda Bove, the actress with hearing loss, also known as Linda the Librarian on Sesame Street. Sarah recalls being captivated by her personality and ability to teach American Sign Language to children with and without the disability.
“Linda Bove was my mentor,” Sarah said. “I loved watching her; I was glued to the television.”
Sarah’s parents saw how fascinated their daughter was with sign language and knew it was something she had the ability to pursue. In no time, Sarah was signed up for classes at the local Park District.
Sarah in her Lambs Farm house.
When she completed the beginner courses, it was evident that Sarah found her passion. She was considered advanced in sign language after her 12-week course and continued her education with a private instructor. As Sarah’s signing skills developed, she moved on to Harper College to focus on linguistic analysis and interpretation. She ended up graduating at the top of her class.
“I wanted to use my skills to give back to the community,” Sarah said – and she’s done just that.
Sarah used her skills for over ten years helping several students at a church and volunteered her time at Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association (NEDSRA), where she interpreted for a young girl named Samantha. “It was a special moment when I met her,” Sarah said. “I signed to let her show her shoe was untied, and that let her know that I could communicate with her.”
Also during that time, Sarah and her mother, Mary Anne, were part of a Sign & Story program at the local library. Mary Anne read the stories aloud while Sarah signed and taught children their ABCs.
At the heart of Sarah’s goal in learning sign language was the hope that she could be a role model to others with developmental disabilities. As someone who has been both a target and active bystander of bullying, Sarah believes people need to look beyond any disability and see someone for who they are as a person.
“I let all Participants know at Lambs Farm that if they have a talent or gift, don’t give that up,” Sarah said. “If anyone ever doubts you, stand up, fight the bullies and say, ‘This is who I am.’”
Sarah’s passion and spirit continues to grow at Lambs Farm. She has a job and her witty, fun personality is loved by all. She makes it clear that nothing can stand between her and her dreams, as she aspires to be a sign language instructor, actress and motivational speaker.
“I’m Sarah, a special needs adult,” she said. “I have Down syndrome, but look where I am now thanks to my mentor on Sesame Street, my parents and my ability to never give up.”
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Ashley and her husband were hoping to find a wedding venue that gave them a special feeling, but they weren’t having any luck. “Nothing felt right,” Ashley said. “But then I called Lambs Farm.”
After meeting Ursula, the Magnolia Café & Bakery’s Assistant Manager, and touring Lambs Farm’s ceremony and reception spaces, Ashley and her husband knew this is where they wanted to tie the knot and begin their journey together. They were drawn to the laid-back, rustic farm feel, as well as the high quality and budget-friendly services.
As a busy bride, Ashley was thrilled to know that she had guidance. Lambs Farm staff provided exceptional hospitality, paid great attention to detail and had excitement for the couple’s special day like it was their own. “The process was so simple and easy for us,” Ashley said. “Ursula and everyone else involved helped us create a perfect stress-free day.”
When wedding day arrived in May of 2016, guests were impressed by the open patios, bar, the breathtaking views from the ceremony location and the countless options for photos that will be cherished forever.
“We made so many great memories and people still talk about our wedding to this day,” Ashley said. “I would recommend Lambs Farm to anyone.”
A Taste Test Showdown, hosted by the Wellness Center, offered Participants the opportunity to dig deeper into this year’s theme: The Good, The Bad & The Healthy.
This activity challenged Participants knowledge and taste buds. Volunteers were tested to see if they could identify the difference between regular and diet soda and deep-fried and baked chips.
Lambs Farm’s dietitian Darlene Holop, and Wellness Manager Kreig Alm, quizzed the audience after each round. Participants held up a “good” or “bad” sign to show what they thought was the healthier choice.
Darlene and Kreig presented the topics visually to show the differences between the soda and chip contents. Participants learned that regular soda contains 12 packets of sugar and that diet soda isn’t much better for you because it’s loaded with artificial sugar and has no nutritional value.
After finding out the ingredients in both sodas, Participants realized that water is ultimately the best drink choice. “We like soda, but we don’t need it to live,” Darlene said.
Participants were surprised to learn the number of calories, fat and negative effect regular chips can have on your body. While baked chips may be less greasy and lower in calories, Darlene and Kreig informed Participants of healthier snack options that taste just as good. Their list included vegetables, popcorn, fruits, nuts and even dark chocolate.
The showdown facts can help Participants make healthier food and drink choices as they continue on their wellness path.
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The Wellness Center’s new theme for 2018, The Good, The Bad & The Healthy, employs different learning tactics to help Participants recognize what the good, better and best practices are when it comes to food, activity and safety, as well as the negative effects unhealthy choices have on our bodies.
To kick off the new year, the Wellness department crafted a Fitness Challenge. Participants and staff put forth their best effort to earn the fastest time or complete the most reps at each station. Each competitor did pull-ups, a walk-run, squat ups, sit and reach, a rope pull, step ups and push-ups. Those who competed in the challenge received a prize for taking the step to be active.
“We wanted to shake up the normal, everyday workout with different forms of exercise,” Wellness Manager, Kreig Alm, said. “The fact that is was done as a challenge with incentive just made it more fun.”
After the challenge was complete, statistics showed promising results. Out of the 22 Participants who took part in the challenge, 18 were people who do not exercise daily. The Wellness staff believe that these kinds of challenges will continue to spark interest and guide Participants on their wellness journey.
As part of this year’s theme, there will be a showdown, presentation or interactive activity to emphasize the importance of making healthy decisions. Participants are already looking forward to what’s in store for February.
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“I just feel very proud,” Laura said as tears gently streamed down her face after sharing her accomplishments since becoming a Lambs Farm Participant in 1980.
In the time Laura has called Lambs Farm home, she has grown in all aspects of her life. She loves competing in Special Olympic sports, donating to those in need and being a caring friend. Laura feels appreciated, supported and happy at Lambs Farm, especially at work. She is a dedicated Magnolia Café & Bakery employee and believes the responsibilities she holds at the restaurant help her develop a wide range of life skills and independence.
Laura using the POS system.
Laura cleans tables, hosts, keeps the restrooms spotless and is part of the Lambs Express delivery team. And recently, a new duty was added to Laura’s tasks.
She is in the process of learning the new Point of Sale (POS) system, and she’s the first Participant to take on the role. Laura is currently in the training process and is catching on quickly. She knows how to sign in, collect money, handle credit cards and give change back to customers. Her next goal is to learn how to take and put orders into the system.
Laura is excited to explore this opportunity with staff by her side, the people she loves to be around every day. “Laura wears her heart on her sleeve and is very skilled and bright,” Elaine Bock, manager of the Magnolia Bakery and Café, said. “In the long term, we are confident that she will be able to handle the system as her everyday job.”
After she masters the POS system, Laura wants to keep developing new skills. She looks forward to learning how to use the grill in the future.
Lambs Farm is devoted to providing the best resources and opportunities possible to Participants in all areas of life.
The Wellness Department carries out Lambs Farm’s mission by promoting healthy lifestyles with a variety of activities. While Participants have many choices, it seems as if the team camaraderie, competition and opportunity to grow has helped many decide on being Special Olympic athletes.
More than 100 Participants train for 10 Special Olympic sports, which makes Lambs Farm one of the largest participating agencies in northwest Illinois.
This year, Lambs Farm was recognized by Special Olympics, and the Wellness Department received a Hero Award at the 8th Annual Special Olympics Illinois Hero Awards banquet. This honor acknowledges Lambs Farm’s exemplary commitment to strengthen communities and its dedication to improving the quality of life for Special Olympic athletes.
Lambs Farm hosts the Area Snowshoe event each year in January, providing the facility space, equipment and support for a great event. They recently started hosting a Motor Activity Training Program for athletes who have phased out of traditional sports.
Ginny with the Hero Award
“Lambs Farm has been a huge part of Special Olympics Illinois success, and we want to thank them for all they do,” Brenden Cannon of Special Olympics said. “Their staff always go above and beyond at events to assure everyone is having a quality experience.”
All staff members in the Wellness Department play a critical role in events, but one person acts as the glue who keeps everything together. That person is Special Olympic Athletic Director, Ginny Luptak.
Ginny has been in her position at Lambs Farm since 2007 but has worked in the Special Olympic field since 2002. She interned at the Chicago Park District, where Special Olympics originated, and worked with numerous Special Rec Associations. Ginny uses her expertise to provide a fulfilling experience to Lambs Farm athletes. She feels a strong bond with them.
“I’ve been around disabilities my whole life, and I was born with moderate hearing loss in both ears, so I went through a lot of adjusting,” Ginny said. “I can relate to our Participants.”
Ginny coordinates anything and everything that has to do with Special Olympics. She helps complete every Participant’s physical and application for them to compete, handles all timing, entries, flyers and stats. She schedules games, organizes event logistics and does data entry. Ginny is a certified coach for five sports and is on the road to more certifications.
“It’s exciting to receive an award like this,” Ginny said. “We are always doing what we can for our athletes and try to bring our numbers up.”
Lambs Farm staff look forward to working with Special Olympics for years to come. Ginny is currently on the list to coach the Special Olympics USA/World Games in 2021 and 2022 and is eager to find out more details.