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New Star shines a light on community integration for people with disabilities

by Jennifer Yos

CRETE, Ill. (December 1, 2018) – For parents of children who are intellectually or developmentally disabled, the concerns and solutions regarding the question “What next?” after their child’s high school graduation can be complicated. As a single parent of a disabled son explains:

“That’s the difficult part because once they’re done with school and you have to work, you have to figure out what you’re going to do with your child. As a parent, and a single parent, it’s very difficult, and you just have to be prepared and be knowledgeable of what is out there for your child, before they are done with school, because then you’ll be faced with what are you going to do? And like most kids, they don’t want to stay at home when they’re done because they’re used to being active and doing something. There’s a program through DORS [Division of Rehabilitation Services of Illinois]. They have a program where they can go to either an adult senior day program, or they can get a PA, which is a personal assistant, and a personal assistant can go into their home and help them out during the day. I think it’s like five or six hours a day.

“Resources are limited once they are done with school…. Unless you have a parent that stays home already, there are not too many options that they have. My son was on the PUNS [Prioritized Urgent Need Services] list for eight years before he got services. They have to be pulled off the PUNS list. Once they get pulled off the list, then they receive an award letter, and then their individual service coordinator will give them a list of different places where they can have services.”

New Star: meeting the need

This particular parent chose New Star Services for her son. New Star was formed in 2016 when two former south suburban organizations—SouthSTAR Services and New Hope Center—merged. New Star’s mission is “to provide choices and opportunities for persons with disabilities and their families through a culture of innovation and caring to enrich their lives and maximize their independence.” New Star currently has two main locations:

  • In Chicago Heights, at 1005 West End Avenue
  • In Crete, at 25930 S Cottage Grove Avenue

New Star uses the term “consumers” to refer to people who use the wide range of services they offer. Consumers may be referred through their past agency (once they receive funding through the State of Illinois) or they may come through their high school transition program. New Star does an assessment with the high school, with their ICAP (Inventory for Client and Agency Planning), and with Suburban Access Service, Inc., to help determine whether the consumer needs to be working on employment skills, on production, or on life skills. New Star offers an impressive array of classes, field trips, recreational and work experiences to assist consumers with basic life skills, community integration and assimilation, relationship building, academics, vocational training, job placement, and self-advocacy.

New Star consumers at the Chicago Heights location enjoy Arts and Crafts. Skills class rotations also include Fitness, Activities, Pre-vocational, and Academics. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

New Star: building community

Group outings include visits to the Field Museum, Navy Pier, and Lake County Fairgrounds. With community integration the goal, New Star takes consumers on tours where they can possibly get jobs, such as different lawn and gardening places, Albanese candy company, and Krispy Kreme.

In addition to the services offered at their two facilities, New Star provides and maintains 22 off-location homes, where consumers live with New Star staff members. A staff member is present whenever the consumer is home, including overnight. Each home has a vehicle, and New Star also provides bus transportation. The consumer makes the decisions about what to do, where to go, and what to eat, and also shares in the responsibilities around the house.

Lansing resident Tavarus Wesley is a New Star consumer who works with the maintenance crew and advocates for others who are unable to speak up for themselves. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
Lansing resident Tavarus Wesley has been receiving New Star services at the Chicago Heights location since 2008. As a result, he is able to give back to his community. “I’ve learned a lot here,” says Wesley. “After the first two months that I got here, I was doing janitorial up to 2010, and then that’s when I came over to the maintenance department.”

Wesley is one of the consumers on the maintenance crew who take care of repairs at the New Star homes and who move items from one place to another.

“When I’m not working with the maintenance field, I am doing advocacy work; I am actually the President of the advocacy group here—PossABILITY Partners.”

PossABILITY Partners is a nationally recognized advocacy group, and as a member at New Star, Wesley helps conduct tours of the facility, interviews potential job candidates, and educates other consumers about their rights. Wesley is also Vice President of the Illinois Self-Alliance Advocacy Group and was one of the guest speakers at the 2018 Annual Convention of The Arc of Illinois.

“Self-Alliance Advocacy Group advocate for others,” he explains, “[and] help others that can’t speak up or speak out. [I want to] just give a helping hand back because I felt like lately I have received a lot of help and a lot of blessings through all this. Right now I just do whatever I can to give back and show that I am appreciative.”

New Star: building business relationships

“I like work,” says Lansing resident Rick Smith. He has one job at New Star in Crete (shown here) and another job at Walgreens in Lansing. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
Another Lansing resident, Rick Smith, is a consumer at the New Star location in Crete. Rick currently has two jobs. His job at New Star is drying container lids that other consumers have cleaned. On Tuesdays, he works in Lansing. “I work one day at Walgreens,” Smith explains. “I do candy—put them on the shelf.” New Star provides Rick with bus transportation to and from his New Star job.

New Star currently has five companies with whom they have established long-term relationships. They have a contract with Tootsie Roll—consumers clean the assembly line candy bins. For the manufacturing company CMG, consumers check nuts and bolts for defects—fractures, dust, anything that would cause them not to work properly. For Bosco, consumers label all of their cleaning products. New Star is also one of just a handful of agencies that have a State of Illinois contract to do electronic recycling.

New Star consumers inspect nuts and bolts for defects and apply labels to cleaning products. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

New Star consumer Cindy Troll takes apart electronics for e-cycling at the Crete facility. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
After vocational training, consumers who work on the production floor receive piece-rate salaries. New Star uses a Department of Labor formula based on how long it takes an average person to complete a job, and pay is based on the number of pieces they do per minute.

New Star: making a difference

Recognizing that people with disabilities are living longer and are outliving their caregivers, New Star also provides services for seniors with disabilities.

With their comprehensive and innovative approach to assisting people of all ages and levels of abilities within a wide range of disabilities, New Star is a comforting solution to a parent’s concern about “What next?” for a child with special needs.

At one point in David’s life, he was homeless and desperate. Today he is living in one of New Star’s group homes and has become co-secretary in the main office of the Crete facility. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

New Star has two offices in Illinois:

  • Chicago Heights office: 1005 West End Avenue, Chicago Heights, IL 60411, 708-755-8030
  • Crete office: 25930 S. Cottage Grove Avenue, Crete, IL 60417, 708-755-8030

For more information, visit


Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos grew up on Walter Street in Lansing with nine siblings. She attended St. Ann’s School and T.F. South, and she earned a BA in the Teaching of English from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a MS in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Francis, Joliet. For 34 years she taught English, as well as Creative Writing and Drama, at Lincoln-Way High School. She dabbled in freelance journalism for the Joliet Herald News Living section. Now retired, Jennifer appreciates the opportunity to write for The Lansing Journal and is uplifted by the variety of positive people she has already met who are making a difference in Lansing.