All posts by Mary Ann Vanaria

Polar Plunge for Special Olympics

The Polar Plunge took place in Chicago on Sunday, March 1, 2020 and Hannah, Eric’s niece, was a participant along with one of Hannah’s friends.  Every participant is asked to raise a minimum of $75 in order to plunge on event day, which also gets you a long-sleeve event T-shirt, but the more you raise, the better your prizes!   Thankfully, there’s a very good reason for annual the Polar Plunge: raising money for Special Olympics Chicago.   Thank you Hannah for raising awareness and your contribution to Special Olympics.


Gary O. – Chicago Bears Superfan


By Advocate Health Care:

We couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the @chicagobears season than having #Bears superfan, Gary, as our #BearDown VIP at tonight’s game. Gary has been a fan of football essentially before he was born, going to his first NFL game while still in the womb as his family watched his uncle, New Orleans Saints center Joe Wendryhoski, play. He grew up following the Bears, doing the Super Bowl shuffle, loving Mike Ditka and stuffing his closet full of Bears gear. His love of sports goes well beyond the football field, being both a participant and spectator in the Special Olympics and other events with family and through the Advocate Adult Down Syndrome Center in Park Ridge, where he has been receiving care for more than 15 years. His family said they appreciate how the staff instills the importance of advocating good health for themselves and connecting the Down syndrome community together. #Bears100 #BearDown




Ted Behncke – Appointed to Wisconsin Governor’s Taskforce

St. Coletta is honored to announce the appointment of Ted Behncke, President, to the Wisconsin Governor’s Task Force on Caregiving.  This is another avenue that St. Coletta will use in our ongoing advocacy efforts to improve reimbursement rates, staffing hiring and retention and quality care.  St. Coletta employs over 200 DSPs (Direct Service Professionals) in Wisconsin and 70 DSPs in Illinois.  Please see the Governor’s press release.

Illinois Friends Picnic – August 24, 2019


What a great weekend!  Our Illinois Friends picnic on Saturday had terrific weather, good food, fun games, music, balloon creations, face painting, and best of all, seeing all our friends and family members of our residents.  Many thanks to siblings Missy O’Brien-Bluhm and Gregg Odway for organizing the picnic and the staff and volunteers who helped make this a successful event.  A special thank you to the St. Viator volleyball for helping with the games.image2

Moving Mountains Award Winner

Through the Moving Mountains Award, ANCOR, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals ( NADSP ) and the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota ( ICI)  recognize organizations using leading practices in direct support workforce development that result in improved outcomes for people with disabilities.
St. Coletta of WisconsinWe are pleased to announce  St. Coletta of Wisconsin  has been awarded the Moving Mountains Award for 2019!

St. Coletta of Wisconsin currently operates in communities throughout southern Wisconsin and Illinois, and is headquartered in Jefferson, WI. St. Coletta offers residential and vocational programs that embrace the concepts of independence, community inclusion, and empowerment.

St. Coletta of Wisconsin’s vision statement expresses the agency’s commitment to quality services: “Through dynamic partnerships, exceptional customer service, a demonstrated commitment to quality and spirituality, we will work with persons receiving services to achieve their best life possible.”

We congratulate the staff and board of directors at St. Coletta of Wisconsin and look forward to celebrating this distinguished achievement with them at the  2019 ANCOR Annual Conference, being held May 6-8 in Portland, Oregon!

Five Questions You Need Answered about Illinois ABLE

  1.  Why Illinois ABLE?  Because individuals with disabilities and their families need to be able to save money for additional expenses that come with having a disability and to improve their quality of life!  Disability advocates fought for 10 years to make it possible for people with disabilities to build stronger financial futures without losing their federal means-tested benefits, like SSI and Medicaid.
  2. What is ABLE?  ABLE stands for “A Better Life Experience.”  An ABLE account is a savings and investment account that qualifying people with disabilities can open.  When you have an ABLE account, you can withdraw the funds from your ABLE account and use the funds for disability-related expenses.  Taxes on earnings from the ABLE account are deferred, and you don’t pay any taxes on the money you withdraw from your ABLE account as long as you use it for disability-related expenses.
  3. Who can have an ABLE account?  You can open an ABLE account if you have a disability and 1) the symptoms of your disability were present before you turned 26 years old and 2) your disability meets the criteria set by the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.
  4. What can I do with an ABLE account?  You can save up to $100,000 without losing your SSI monthly benefits.  You can save and invest your own money.  You can pay for qualifying disability expenses, such as housing, therapy, transportation, training and many other expenses.  You can save money from your job.  You can gain some control and independence.
  5. Where do I go to get more information or to open an Illinois ABLE account?  Visit Treasurer’s website at  You can also plan to attend JJ Hanley’s presentation, “Making the ABLE Program Work for You – a Better Life Experience Essentials Workshop” at the NADS Conference on August 11, 2018 at St. Ignatius College Prep, 1076 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL  60608.

Also, here is a link to a webinar presented by Mary Anne Ehlert of Protected Tomorrows and Brian Rubin of Rubin Law regarding the ABLE act.  Link –

Highlights for the Year 2017

Here are some of the important highlights of the year 2017:

  • The new compensation and incentive program for staff called “Moonshot” has brought improvements in quality and retention of staff.
  • Andy Hancock has done a great job managing and representing the Illinois Program.
  • Coletta has made improvements in some of the houses in Illinois and more are planned for 2018.
  • Coletta’s Day Program is growing and getting ready to expand.
  • The Hick’s St. Coletta Office is now being used for parties, Drumming Circle, Bingo, and other creative activities.
  • A Nutritionist from Lutheran General Hospital Down Sydrome Clinic presented at our last January General Meeting. Liz Brzeski, Director of Residential Operations, who is very interested in healthy eating, was present to listen and address any issues or questions that came up.
  • Lee Davis, has been elected as President of Illinois Friends for St. Coletta. He also joins Russ Schaefer on the Board of Directors in Jefferson, Wisconsin.
  • John Stoeckert , newly elected Illinois Board Member, will be our Illinois Friends treasurer. John has worked in the past with many of our fund-raisers.
  • Thanks to Russ Schaefer, Mary Ann Vanaria and Kim Carmody, the Co-chairs of our annual Golf Outing, an all-time high of $58,000 was raised.
  • Gregg Odway and Missy O’Brien again organized and brought sunshine to our annual picnic at St. Marcelline’s Church.
  • Octoberfest, with its delicious food and music was co-chaired by Rose Ann Gallo, Kathy Dublinsky, and Kathy O’Brien, raised about $13,000.
  • Gregg Odway raced in the Chicago Marathon Run to raise a substantial $2,721.
  • Illinois Friends continued lobbying legislators to support St.Coletta and the disabled. We feel this helped St. Coletta’s financial situation.
  • Illinois Friends sponsored the popular drum circle.
  • Due to the wonderful support of our dedicated members and their friends, we were able to donate $65,000 to St. Coletta at our Christmas party. Some of those funds will be used to support recreational and educational programs here in Illinois.

Golf Outing – Looking for Volunteers

The Illinois Friends golf outing is scheduled for June 25, 2018 at Royal Melbourne Country Club.  This event is the largest fundraiser sponsored by our group.  All proceeds benefit Illinois Friends and St. Coletta of Wisconsin.  Our group is looking for sponsors, donors and volunteers for this event.  For more information, please contact Russ Schaefer.