GLENCOE – Jaimie Minkus-Frazin realized as a teenager growing up in Northbrook that she had a passion for working with people with special needs, a passion she now brings as the executive director of the Special Needs Adult Program (SNAP) at Glencoe Youth Services.
“I just fell in love with it,” Minkus-Frazin said, after volunteering in a peer buddies program in high school. Her mother was a special education teacher, and routinely made strong connections with her students, making them a part of family life for Minkus-Frazin growing up.
So it was logical that Minkus-Frazin would go on to work at the Northern Suburban Special Education District in Highland Park, and later became involved with SNAP about two years ago. SNAP’s board of directors tapped Minkus-Frazin for the position of executive director six months ago, and now she is bursting with new ideas for the organization.
“Every aspect of my life special needs is a part of it,” Minkus-Frazin said.
On Tuesday evenings, a group of more than 20 special-needs adults gathers at the Glencoe Youth Services building, ranging in age from about 22 to 55 years old. It’s a tight-knit group of adults who primarily grew up on the North Shore and graduated from local high schools, according to Minkus-Frazin, who affectionately calls them “Snappers.” They eat dinner donated mostly by individuals, but also from local businesses, churches and nonprofits, and then do something social such as watch a movie, play games, or do arts and crafts. Once a month, the group will take an outing, like shopping at the mall or bowling, and speakers visit SNAP to speak on topics such as mental health.
Minkus-Frazin tries to keep the Snappers involved so that they feel connected to SNAP and keep coming back. At the beginning of each month she holds a board meeting, where Snappers choose what types of activities they would like to do that month. The meeting gives them an opportunity to share ideas and be heard, which Minkus-Frazin says is really important when working with special needs adults.
“They are just as important as I am,” she emphasized. “I like to call them the mini directors,” she added.
Maintaining close connections seems to be working, since Minkus-Frazin has grown the program by about eight people after assuming the role of executive director.
While SNAP shares the same facilities as Glencoe Youth Services, as well as the same board of directors and administrative support, it has its own director and funding. Minkus-Frazin applies for funding locally, seeking support from individual donors, as well as from New Trier Township, Glencoe Park District and Winnetka Park District.
SNAP is unique in that not only does it serve adults with special needs, but also that the program is free. Minkus-Frazin runs the program with the assistance of Hanah Zimmerman, as well as volunteers from New Trier High School, and some middle school students from Glencoe. She has found that once students volunteer for SNAP, they fall in love with the place and keep coming back. It also serves as a learning experience for many.
“I think it teaches young people patience and also teach them the big picture in life,” Minkus-Frazin said.
For others, volunteering at SNAP can be transformational. “I’ve seen changes in my volunteers in their patients and how they treat people,” she observed.
Minkus-Frazin believes spending time at SNAP simply feels good. “You can’t not just walk into my group and feel the love,” she said.
Moving forward, Minkus-Frazin plans to continue to raise awareness of SNAP. She started a Facebook page and visits other nonprofit organizations such as Lambs Farm, to share what SNAP has to offer. She hopes to further grow the program, as well as start another night that is specifically for young adults with special needs.
Minkus-Frazin also has plenty of ideas for activities, including more outings and speakers to share knowledge on relevant topics such as bullying, internet safety or how to dress for a job interview. “I am open to anything people would be willing to do and share with our group,” she said.
SNAP meets at Glencoe Youth Services, 680 Greenwood Avenue, Glencoe, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday evenings. For more information visit www.glencoeyouthservices.org, or email Minkus-Frazin directly at [email protected]