An organization on the Chicago’s Southeast side is making a difference for families of children with disabilities.
“Parents of Extraordinary Children,” or PEXC, began as a support group for parents in the city’s 10th Ward in 2014, but it has transformed over the years.
Thanks to their significant efforts, they’ were able they’ve been able to open a Sensory Gym for children with special needs.
“We’re very much so in lack of resources here on the southeast side, and we were trying to think what would be the best to benefit her parents, outside of monthly informational meetings? What resources can we provide?”, said Margaret ‘Roxy’ Cortes, President and CEO of PEXC. “This was one of them… a sensory gym was top 10 on our list.”
The gym, “Smiling Faces Sensory Spaces,” is located on the corner of 91st street and Burley Avenue, in the South Chicago neighborhood. It’s the only gym of it’s kind in that community.
“It’s amazing because before I have to travel far I had to go to the north side or to the suburbs to find something similar to this,” said Amanda Montes, who has two sons with disabilities.
Montes says her 15-year-old son Enrique thrives every time he visits the gym, adding that he equipment in it captures his attention in a unique way.
“He doesn’t play with traditional games or toys,” Montes said. “He has down syndrome, he has autism and severe cognitive delays and some orthopedic disabilities.”
The sensory gym is free to all residents of the 10th ward, but it is primarily for children with special needs. Since the space is run solely by volunteers, families are only able to visit it on Saturdays by making an appointment between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
It’s the appointment-only approach allows families to have intimate time with their children, Cortes says.
“Watching the impact that it has, the connections that they’re making with their children and the responses I get when they leave, I’m seeing that it is positive and very beneficial,” Cortes said.
But it’s not just the gym. The support the organization offers is crucial for a community with a large Spanish-speaking population.
“We have several families in our group that are bilingual, Spanish dominant,” said Cortes. “That communication breakdown, the language barrier is a factor for them. They need our help.”
The organization’s board members are all parents of children with special needs. Many of them say their mission to help other families has brought them together like a family.
“It’s comforting to talk to people that know and understand what you’re going through… it’s a sense of like, I’m not the only one” said Melanie Cuevas-Camacho, PEXC Board member.
These parents hope their story reflects the importance of knowledge and acceptance, especially during Autism Awareness Month, which runs through the month of April.
“Our families matter… our children matter,” said Cortes. “Provide the support, make sure that you take the time, make the effort and provide the support that is needed.”
PEXC relies heavily on donations. For more information about their mission, visit their website.