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Embracing the Value of Play – Recreation as an Essential Component of Therapy

All kids need to have the opportunity to just be kids. This has been a philosophy at Allendale since Cap Bradley founded the agency in 1897.

Research has shown that children benefit both physically and emotionally through play increasing resiliency, promoting positive social interaction, and improving overall health and wellness. Play is an important part of treating the whole child; safe, inviting play spaces for physical challenges, social interaction, fun and creativity are paramount to the treatment services at Allendale.

“One of the things I love most about my job is when I hear one of the kids say, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever…’ fill in the blank!” exclaims Lauren Perry, Program Manager of Allendale’s Therapeutic Recreation Program. “It’s not uncommon for some of our 17 or 18-year-old kids to say they never experienced the simple fun of carving a pumpkin or going camping… those are some of my favorite childhood memories! I’m so grateful to be able to pass that on and provide those experiences for another child.”

Allendale’s scenic 120-acre campus on the western shores of Cedar Lake in Lake Villa offers plenty of outdoor space for kids to run, swim, play… and dream. The campus offers a playground with turfed-surface, multi-purpose sports court and swing sets, in addition to our own private beachfront with full lake access. Kids enjoy swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, canoeing and even ice skating when the weather allows!

“I think our expansive campus, complete with walking paths, lakefront and ample play spaces & ballfields, is one of the main things that sets Allendale apart from other agencies. We have so much to offer!” says Rodney Tye, Allendale Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.

Our off-campus programs also feature indoor and outdoor recreation areas such as spacious backyards, basketball courts, spaces for gardening and outdoor grilling and all are located close to neighborhood parks and other community activities.

Allendale’s certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialists create a safe, supportive group environment for youth to challenge themselves, taking risks physically and even emotionally, surrounded by friends, peers and encouraging staff. Most significantly, this time for fun and play provides them a cherished and most fundamental of experiences — the joy of simply being a kid. Challenging themselves in a recreational environment with the safety and comfort of experienced therapeutic staff serves as the catalyst for change for many of the youth at Allendale. As kids discover the strength and courage to overcome their fears while kayaking or paddleboarding for the first time, successfully traversing a ropes course 20 feet in the air, experiencing the dizzying fun of whipping around the spinner on the playground or effectively managing the frustration of a losing a kickball game, culminate in fears being conquered, obstacles being overcome and a healthier sense of self-confidence emerges as they realize, “I can do this!”

The goals of the Allendale Therapeutic Recreation Program are to:

  • help kids implement and apply newly acquired physical skills
  • learn self-reliance as well as reliance upon others — to trust
  • discover one’s own personal potential and increase self-confidence
  • explore the peace and tranquility associated with nature

At Allendale, we measure success one youth at a time. Our Therapeutic Rec Specialists review coping skills, relationship-building, anger management and self-esteem both before and after recreation time or following a specific activity/trip. Over 90% of youth report feeling better about themselves following participation in an activity that was new and/or challenging for them. To us, that’s success!

A tradition of care and service.

For 125 years, Allendale, a private, not-for-profit organization, has led youth with serious emotional, mental, and behavioral health challenges and their families on a journey towards resiliency.

At Allendale, our aim is to offer every chance for healing and growth – through myriad programs and services and a continuum of care including 24/7 therapeutic residential treatment, therapeutic day school programs, outpatient counseling services, foster care and community support services. Allendale is a place where kids and families have the opportunity to restore their lives and discover a better future.