LOVES PARK (WREX) — Saturday, May 18, 2019.
A very important date for the Superhero Center for Autism.
That was the day of the center's grand opening at it's facility in Loves Park.
Parents walked through the doors to see an open space with a lot of sensory equipment for kids to use.
Multiple rooms filled with toys for kids with autism and other special needs to play with.
At least, that was the case before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The outbreak caused the center, like most businesses in the area, to close its doors until things calmed down.
"I was more on the side of "it's going to be two weeks and we're going to be fine and then we can open everything back up.'" Then when it got extended the first time, it turned into 'what can we do for our families,'" Superhero Center for Autism president Jamie Dornink said.
As the stay-at-home order continued, so did the center's push to get families what they needed.
150 families are registered with the center and are unable to use a lot of the resources it provides.
Dornink has worked hard to put out visual resources for people to use at home and to meet with parents as directly as possible to give them support.
"We know there are a lot of kiddos who need us and it's been hard not to be able to be there like I'd like to be there for them," Dornink said.
Eventually, Illinois began to reopen and businesses started to do the same.
However, the Superhero Center is still closed to this day.
It's not due to any financial issues, but to a fear of not being able to provide a good experience for kids.
Dornink is concerned about being able to work with families with social distancing and particularly mask guidelines still in place.
"A lot of kiddos with autism have an extra oral input so that's putting anything and everything in their mouth. Right now we have a protocol when we or a parent sees a kiddo with something in their mouth then we take it right away to get washed," Dornink said.
"We want them to just enjoy this. The mask idea or keeping them six feet apart is just not going to happen so until we can open and do our families due diligence to keep them healthy and safe, we're just going to keep our doors closed for a little while longer."
While the center isn't in jeopardy of closing for good, fundraising has been its own challenge.
The Superhero Center has two main fundraisers each year.
One of them, an annual 5k race, was forced to be a virtual event that only brought in about a third of the normal donations.
Despite that, support and independent donations from the community are keeping the center afloat.
"This is truly like a community effort. We didn't have big sponsors or anything like that. This is all the little donations," Dornink said.
"I think the big thing I've learned from all this is that we can make it through a lot more than we think we can."
The love from its families is keeping the center going strong until it can pick up where it left off before the pandemic.
"I just want everybody in here again. I want it to be nice and loud and have all of the families back. It's really something that I can't wait for and I'm looking forward to it," Dornink said.
The Superhero Center plans to reopen sometime this fall.
Click here to learn more about the center, the resources it provides and how you can volunteer to help kids at the center.