Sometimes a change is all you need to break new ground.

Few people have seen more change at Little City’s Countryside Center than Katie. Katie first came to Countryside in 1998, right after graduating from high school. For nearly 18 years, her days were often spent seeing the same friendly faces, completing piece work sent to the center by area businesses, and enjoying the same routine.

Things changed in 2016 when Countryside and Little City officially merged, leading Katie and her friends to meet new people in a new place. Two years later things changed even more as the piece work that filled the days for people like Katie was phased out due to a new state law that prohibited this type of subminimum wage work.

And then Katie changed.

“Katie is the sweetest person, but she has always been a little shy,” said Nada Laing, Katie’s case manager and a former direct support professional who has worked with Katie for a decade.

“With the different programs she can experience now, she has gotten more social and come out of her shell. And she enjoys trying new things with new people.”

Little City’s Countryside Center offered more choices and more experiences than ever before in 2023, giving participants a chance to choose from eight core courses including cooking, health and wellness, art, life skills, environmental science, and more while also increasing the number of community trips and volunteer opportunities.

Participants like Katie choose the courses they want to explore on a quarterly basis, giving them a chance to experience all eight within a year if desired. Their days start in a homeroom and from there they proceed to different classrooms throughout the day to pursue their chosen interests.
Special events, from on-site concerts to volunteer-led clubs like the photography club, give participants even more opportunities to broaden their experiences.

Celebrating 25 years now at Countryside, Katie still is breaking new ground by discovering new interests and exploring new things. She discovered a new passion in the cooking class, where she said she enjoys all the different recipes. Katie also started taking more community trips in 2023, learning about the resources in her community and how to stay safe. She even had the chance to drum along and perform with a visiting drumline!
“We are still just starting to expand Katie’s interests, so there will be more of that to come,” Nada said. “We interview everyone and try to get them into the area they want to explore each quarter. With 200 people, it can be a challenge, but we make sure everyone is accommodated.”

Katie’s growing social engagement expands beyond Countryside, too. She is an active member of her church and participates in a local theater group that performs at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

And if her recent community trip to the fire department was any indication, Katie will be exploring even more new places in 2024. After a day of seeing how fire trucks operate, the routine of firefighters, and how fire departments keep our communities safe, Katie was quick to pick her favorite part of the day.

“Seeing the cute firemen,” she said.