By Kelly Youngblood
The Autism Program at the University of Illinois, a lifeline for many families dealing with autism, will remain open for at least another year thanks to over $100,00 in community donations.
But with the status of state funding still questionable, the future of the program is uncertain.
That’s a concern for many families in the Champaign-Urbana area who utilize the free services The Autism Program (TAP) offers.
Amy Slagell of Champaign has been getting help from TAP for the last seven years. Slagell, who has a 10-year-old son with autism and an eight-year-old son who is possibly on the spectrum, says it’s been a wonderful resource for her family.
“So many things have happened in our lives and TAP has been there the whole time,” she said.
Linda Tortorelli, who helped start The Autism Program in 2005, said up until last year, they received over $200,000 from the state annually.
Without that money coming in, the program had to make some substantial sacrifices last year. Tortorelli volunteered to cut her salary in half. The program managed to get by without spending any money and used up all of its reserves.
“We had gone through every one of our rainy day funds because it was for a whole year,” Tortorelli said. “Every penny was gone.”
Previous fundraising efforts hadn’t been successful and with a minimum of $106,000 needed to keep the program going for another academic year, it was looking like TAP was going to have close its doors at the end of June.
But several donations from Carle, Christie Clinic, University of Illinois partners and private families came through just in time.
Tortorelli said the contributions will allow TAP to remain open in a “most reduced capacity” for another academic year.
Beyond that, Tortorelli said TAP’s future is very questionable.
While money is currently earmarked in the state budget for their program, there’s no way to get that money right now without a contract.
State requirements for the funding are also changing and Tortorelli isn’t sure their program will even qualify any more.
“It remains unseen going forward beyond the stopgap budget if we’re going to be able to meet the requirements the state is starting to talk about setting for those grants,” she said.
Without state funding, Tortorelli said it would be up to the community to decide if they want to contribute to help TAP continue into the future.
TAP still needs to raise about $5,000-$6,000 this year to help cover consumable supplies and materials like cardstock, laminate, and Velcro.
“We still need your money, this is not over. If you value this and want our services to continue for free please consider making a donation of any size,” she said.
The Autism Program at the University of Illinois, located at 904 W. Nevada in Urbana, has been helping families with autism cope for the last 11 years.
Two part-time staff members, as well as trained U of I students, run the program.
If you are interested in donating to The Autism Program, please visit their website.