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People

A place of hope for families

65-year-old center in Joliet for youth with disabilities makes 2 significant changes

Frank DiBartolomeo, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services, can be seen Friday, Dec. 13, at his office in Joliet. He was also the CFO from 2003 to 2012.
Frank DiBartolomeo, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services, can be seen Friday, Dec. 13, at his office in Joliet. He was also the CFO from 2003 to 2012.

You know the old saying, “Two steps forward, one step back”?

For the Center for Disability Services in Joliet (formerly called United Cerebral Palsy of Will County and United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois Prairieland (UCP), going slightly back is the best step forward.

On Dec. 4, Center for Disability Services announced its re-affiliation with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and will know be known as United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services (UCP-CDS).

The nonprofit agency also recently hired a new CEO, Frank DiBartolomeo, who served the agency as its chief financial officer from 2003 to 2012.

New leadership, new vision

DiBartolomeo has over 20 years of experience in finance for private organizations and over 15 years working in executive management for non-for-profit organizations that specifically serve the intellectually and developmentally disabled.

When DiBartolomeo first came to UCP, he had a strong vision for the nonprofit, which was realized, he said.

This time, the specifics of the vision is slow to crystallize, he said. But he’s certain of one thing.

“The agency has the ability to thrive again with the right leadership,” DiBartolomeo said.

DiBartolomeo recalled his first day on the job in 2003.

“The building hadn’t been upgraded since 1960,” DiBartolomeo said. “There were holes in the roof. Whenever it rained, there were two, three buckets in every room. There was a bucket on my desk catching water. The paint job was probably 10 years old. The original windows were in the building. It was like being in a nice, old house, well, an old house.”

DiBartolomeo's vision came to him in one week, he said.

“It was to make that building a place of hope when families brought their children to school,” DiBartolomeo said.

In short, DiBartolomeo wanted the exterior to reflect the quality of UCP’s programming. And so, the roof was repaired, the windows replaced, the rooms were painted and modernized, classroom by classroom by classroom, DiBartolomeo said.

This time, the vision DiBartolomeo is developing is in terms of creating a campus-like setting, so the center can build up existing opportunities “to educate more students as well as provide unique and different learning services,” he said.

DiBartolomeo especially wants to expand programs that educate, advocate and foster self-sufficiency.

According to its news release, UCP-CDS currently provides the following programs: Melvin J. Larson School for children ages 3 to 21, an adult training program for individuals ages 22 and up, family support, in-home respite services and an after school respite program in an eight-county area including Will, Kankakee, Grundy, Kendall, LaSalle, DuPage, Iroquois and parts of Cook counties.

Where did DiBartolomeo's passion for helping people with disabilities arise?

Right here in Joliet, long before he first became CFO at UCP in 2003.

Early experiences, going forward

DiBartolomeo grew up on the east side of Joliet near the Boys and Girls club, the son of an extremely hard worker, someone who rarely called in sick and insisted his children earn their own spending money by delivering The Herald-News he said.

From these experiences, DiBartolomeo developed a strong work ethic of not only doing a job, but also doing it well, he said.

“In my career as I became an accountant, I had this goal: How can I bring value to the original [organization] and help them be a better organization,” DiBartolomeo said.

In addition, one of DiBartolomeo's brothers has spinal muscular atrophy type 3, which is a type of muscular dystrophy. The disability appeared when the brother, around age 8, began skipping when his peers ran.

That brother is now a computer programmer, DiBartolomeo said.

As CEO, DiBartolomeo said he is not the type of person who will micromanage his staff. He admires good ideas, enthusiasm and people willing to take risks.

Because even if they don’t succeed, they can learn from their failures, he said.

To the community, DiBartolomeo has one message: UCP-CDS is there for them.

“We want people to know about the resources for them,” DiBartolomeo said. “If we don't know the answer, we can direct them to it.”

KNOW MORE

Here is a summary of the history and services of United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services (UCP-CDS), according to a Dec. 4 news release from the organization.

Founded in Joliet in 1955 by Melvin J. Larson, a college professor, United Cerebral Palsy of Will County was formed with the help of local parents of children with cerebral palsy.

In 2008, the name changed to UCP of Illinois Prairieland to better represent the areas outside of Will County the agency was serving.

In 2014, the name changed to Center for Disability Services (CDS) with the expansion of programs and services to better serve individuals with various intellectual and developmental disabilities. UCP-CDS operates from the former Reedswood Elementary School in Joliet.

Services and programs were created to include individuals with autism, down syndrome, brain injury, orthopedic impairments, seizures, and multiple intellectual and developmental disabilities.

UCP-CDS is a partner of United Way of Will and Grundy Counties.

The name change of the agency embarks on two celebratory events in 2020.

The celebration of 65 years of dedicated service in the advancement of independence for people with disabilities and the 25th Anniversary of the Annual Great Chef’s Tasting Party & Auction; the agency’s top fundraiser scheduled for March 1, 2020, at the Bolingbrook Golf Club.

For more information about United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services, call Frank DiBartolomeo at 815-744-3500 ext. 120, email him at frankd@cdsil.org or visit cdsil.org.

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