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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Naperville’s Pulse in Springfield – Making a difference for Little Friends


Some call it “pork,” and others call it “member initiative” money. Whatever you call it, the FY 2020 budget (7/1/19 – 6/30/20) included funds for legislators to channel directly to public or not-for-profit organizations in their districts. The idea is that legislators know best which agencies are doing great things in their communities while facing steep uphill financial challenges.

In theory, legislators know which organizations could best use a financial boost in ways that have the greatest effect on service delivery. When practically applied, however, politics often rears its head and many lawmakers spread their allocation between as many organizations as possible so they can get the biggest PR bang for their buck.

Rather than issuing several small checks, I decided to channel every cent of my $3 million member initiative allotment to Naperville-based Little Friends, Inc. Little Friends supports children, adults, and families with developmental disabilities and autism throughout 8 counties and over 50 school districts in the region. Over time the organization has grown to a multi-faceted human services agency operating three schools, vocational training programs, community-based residential and respite opportunities, and the Little Friends Center for Autism.

I chose Little Friends because I believe government has a primary responsibility to take care of those who cannot care for themselves, and during my six years in Springfield, I have seen firsthand what a terrible job the state does in this area.

Little Friends’ primary facility is preparing to move to a larger location that will greatly expand the organization’s ability to serve this area’s autistic and developmentally disabled community. Later this month it will move three miles away to a Warrenville location still within the boundaries of the 41st District.

The new 74,000 sq. ft. space will provide for more than 20 classrooms, and when fully built out will allow the organization to more than double the number of individuals they can serve. Today’s caseload of 120 can expand to an ability to serve nearly 200 people in 2021 and with capacity to expand to support 300 individuals with specific needs as future requirements dictate. The new building, unlike the current two-story building with no elevator, is also ADA compliant.

Little Friends President and CEO Michael Briggs tells me the funds will cover more than half the cost of the construction loan, and provide for modernized technologies. I’m also told the official paperwork is under final merit review. I hope these funds are transferred before I leave office in January. But if that doesn’t happen, my colleagues on the House Republican leadership team have assured me they will stay on top of the final review and make sure the funds are delivered.

Grant Wehrli
Grant Wehrli
Grant Wehrli is a lifelong Naperville Resident and former Representative in the Illinois House of Representatives and Naperville City Councilman.