Western Springs resident in pursuit of independence
SEASPAR EAGLES program participants Mike Vihon (center), of Western Springs, and Jason Brockman (left), of Downers Grove, move plants with program coordinator Laura Christensen (right) at the Darien Sportsplex in Darien. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:59PM
Mike Vihon is a neat guy. A Western Springs resident, Vihon spends his days learning, then comes home and works out. Most nights, Vihon spends his time talking with his lady friends on the telephone. “He’s popular with the ladies,” said his mother Ruthan Vihon. He also does his chores around the house.
And if you ask Vihon’s mother, she’ll tell you he’s delightful, handsome and has a sense of humor. “He really is a neat guy,” she said.
When the economic recession hit, Mike Vihon was working two jobs. When he learned he would have to stop working he began to cry.
“I haven’t seen my son cry in years. ... He had tears rolling down his face. He said when the job coach leaves I won’t know what to do,” Ruthan Vihon said.
Mike Vihon has an intellectual disability, or, what used to be referred to as mental retardation.
Now 34 years old, Mike Vihon knows what to do at a job, and how to do it; but without the security of a job coach, he is lost.
Each year, young men and women with a wide spectrum of learning disabilities graduate from high school and must then square off against the real world. An organization called South East Association for Special Parks And Recreation (SEASPAR) — which services many western suburbs — provides continuing education for these individuals.
The transition program is funded by taxpayers, so state law requires that the age of 22 years old be the cut off from the service.
In 2008 SEASPAR created a new program — this one privately funded — that allows individuals to remain actively involved in the community until the age of 35.
It is called the EAGLES program. The acronym stands for Enhancing Adult Growth through Lifestyle Education and Service.
The program’s participants range in age from 18 to 35 and meet in Darien. There is also an EAGLES program for people as old as 65, which meets in Brookfield.
Laura Christensen, coordinator of the program, said EAGLES is consistently growing. Today, there is a waiting list to get into the program.
“Instead of a one day event, families sign up to make a year commitment to the program. Since they work on goals, they’re with us 2, 3, 5 days a week for a whole year, which is great,” Christensen said.
Mike Vihon was one of the first people to join the EAGLES program and he now attends five days a week. “Because I don’t have a job yet,” he said.
He is learning about things like fitness and gardening, volunteerism and how to make his own lunch. “I like doing that,” Mike Vihon said.
Ruthan Vihon said the program has given her son a sense of responsibility he could not get at home. “For instance, they have a garden and he participates in growing vegetables. We don’t have a garden,” she said.
The EAGLES program also offers individuals like Mike Vihon a chance to learn skills away from their parents. Ruthan Vihon said that is a good thing because she would be too tempted to step in and help her son overcome a particular challenge.
“They do things like bank skills and resume development, as well as determining goals for yourself,” Ruthan Vihon said. “This provides him the opportunity to learn for himself.”