Easter Seals project sent two autistic teammates to Oscar night

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Learning through doing: Easter Seals student Colin, from Shorewood, works on a wine charm at the Easter Seals Tinley Park location. | Mary Compton ~ For Sun-Times Media


What it is: Chicago Professionals for Easter Seals will host a March Madness event from 4 to 7 p.m. March 23 at Mullen’s Bar & Grill, 8313 W. Lawrence Ave., Norridge.

Tickets: Online tickets available at chicago.easterseals.com for $50 until March 20; tickets at the door available for $75.

Where the money goes: Proceeds from this event will allow Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago CPES to purchase 60 iPads for the Autism Therapeutic Schools in Chicago, Tinley Park and Rockford.

For more information: Visit www.cpesevents.org for more info on CPES and details on sponsorship or how to donate a silent auction or raffle prize. Call Cindy Nelson, director of special events, at (312) 491-4119 or email cnelson@eastersealschicago.org.

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When Hollywood stars like Bradley Cooper and Ben Affleck opened their gift bags after the Oscars Sunday, they got a little bit of Chicago inside.

No, not a deep-dish pizza or a fully loaded hot dog. Inside the gift bags that all Academy Award nominees and presenters received were wine charms made by individuals with autism at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago. SEE photos.

Two men — Dylan, 19, of Joliet, and Ronnie, 19, of Morris — were picked to go to the recently held 2013 Red Carpet Celebrity Style Lounge in honor of the 85th Academy Award nominees and presenters. Dylan and Ronnie were on hand at the star-studded party, presented by Secret Room Events, to bring awareness to autism and showcase The Wine Steward.

Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago provides services for approximately 30,000 people with disabilities and special needs in the Chicago area. The organization offers five core service lines, one of which is comprehensive autism services. That includes three therapeutic schools in Chicago, Tinley Park and Rockford. Care and aid extends beyond childhood; Easter Seals provides adult vocational programming as well.

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Kelly Anne Ohde is a micro-enterprise coordinator with Harry’s Buttons at Easter Seals in Tinley Park. Harry’s Buttons is a business founded by Harry Engnell Sr. for Harry Jr., his adult son with autism. The family donated the business to Easter Seals. As part of the vocational program, Easter Seals contracts work for their students and clients to do.

“We do buttons, magnets, key chains, mailings for different companies, shredding, folder preparation, data entry — long- and short-term contracts,” Ohde said.

One of their contracts is with a company out of Orland Park called The Wine Steward. Owner Marge McConville had a complex product she wanted made: a wine bottle charm. These are drip collars that attach to the wine bottle to prevent spills and also hold the wine’s cork or cap.

The product is made with Swarovski crystals and has a reversible charm with cute sayings on it like “Dinner is Poured,” “Aged to Perfection” and “Group Therapy (Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfandel.)”

Sixteen people at the Tinley Park school and adult program have been making the wine charms for The Wine Steward for two years. The contract will likely expand to the Chicago and Rockford locations in the future.

“Making wine charms helps individuals with autism learn vocational and job skills that build self-confidence. These skills can be transferred to other jobs as well. In addition, it helps them to understand the value of earning a paycheck and financial responsibility,” Ohde said.

McConville contacted Secret Room Events, the group with exclusive gift lounges and suites in Hollywood for various award shows as well as special hand-delivered nominee baskets. It was too late for 2012, but when it came time to fill the swag bags for the 2013, she — and Easter Seals — got the call.

Secret Room Events not only waived the sponsorship fee, but designated Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago the charity of choice for their 2013 Red Carpet Celebrity Style Lounge in honor of the 85th Academy Award nominees and presenters.

That’s how Dylan and Ronnie got to fly to L.A. and attend the red carpet event.

Easter Seals’ local therapeutic schools are approved by the Illinois State Board of Education and offer classes and programs for people ages 3 to 21. There are about 100 students at Tinley Park, 120 at Chicago and 50 in Rockford.

“The students we serve come to us from over 100 school districts in Illinois,” Ohde said. “The home school district contracts Easter Seals for a variety of reasons. Our programming is individualized and we offer speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, social work, art therapy, music therapy and vocational services.”