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Generous Geneva boy donates bar mitzvah gifts to school


Glendale Heights – When Dan Simon was considering community service projects to undertake in preparation for his bar mitzvah, the 13-year-old Geneva boy decided to focus on helping the school that had helped him grow and thrive as a student. So instead of accepting personal gifts for the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, Dan requested donations to his school, Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School. He raised more than $1,700 that will be used to assist his classmates at the Glendale Heights-based alternative school.

“Helping my school made me feel good because I love my school so much,” Dan said.

His bar mitzvah was held Dec. 6 at his home. Guests included many teachers and staff from Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School.

A seventh-grader, Dan enrolled at Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School in third grade. He has Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger’s syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and a rigid, black-and-white way of thinking and looking at the world. Dan’s service dog, a specially trained three-year-old Golden Retriever named Tauqua, helps ease his Asperger’s symptoms, which include severe anxiety.

Dan benefits from the Therapeutic Day School’s supportive environment, therapy programs, caring staff and small class sizes, his parents said.

“Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School has given Dan self confidence and taught him so much about getting along in life,” said his father, Mike Simon. “The skills he’s learned have made a positive impact on our family.”

At the Therapeutic Day School, Dan is a member of the soccer team. The school belongs to the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL), a nonprofit organization that provides a full spectrum of interscholastic academic and athletic programs for troubled youth attending local alternative schools. CAAEL emphasizes good sportsmanship over competition.

The funds raised by Dan will help students who have difficulty paying for school supplies, field trips and other items, said Karen Lawler, executive director of the GlenOaks Hospital Foundation. The foundation will administer the funds.

“Dan’s generosity is so touching to all of us in the GlenOaks family,” Lawler said. “A young man making such a grown-up decision to request donations to his school instead of gifts for himself really speaks to the community spirit of Dan and his family.”

Added Lisa Grigsby, director of Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School: “We are so grateful for Dan’s commitment to our school. It’s clear that he’s taken to heart our school’s emphasis on serving others and giving back to the community.”

Designed for children with learning disabilities and emotional and psychiatric problems, Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School was founded in 1995. Elementary through high-school age students earn normal academic credits while addressing their therapeutic goals. Along with traditional individual and group therapy, the school uses recreation, pets, music and art activities with certified therapists to help with physical, social and emotional.