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Nighthawk Foundation marks 20 years with fundraiser

ST. CHARLES – For 20 years, the Nighthawk Foundation has funded extras for children with special needs – things insurance does not cover.

The foundation has paid for summer camps, wheelchair batteries, reading lessons, a wheelchair van lift, adaptive tricycles and computers.

St. Charles residents Hank and Karen Sembdner started the foundation by happenstance, after they disbanded a dance team that did Native American dancing for Boy Scouts Blue and Gold dinners when they lived in Hanover Park.

“The boys got older and did not want to dance any more,” Hank Sembdner, 63, said. “But we still had a candlelight bowl fundraiser for the kids to buy costumes.”

And then they met a boy with cerebral palsy who needed a service dog that insurance would not cover and his family could not afford.

“His parents approached us,” Karen Sembdner, 58, said.

“We figured we would do a fundraiser and buy him a helper dog,” Hank said. “And that started everything out. We liked the feeling we got when we did it.”

After they raised enough money to buy the service dog, they took the name of their dance team and explorer post – Nighthawk – and created the tax-exempt charity.

“We do it because it makes us feel good,” Karen said, echoing her husband’s sentiments. “Usually we raise about $10,000 a year; sometimes we raise more. Some years, we may help one. Right now, we have six applications costing around $13,000.”

Their biggest fundraiser is an annual dinner. This year’s event, celebrating two decades of giving, will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at Itasca Country Club, 400 E. Orchard Road, Itasca. The cost is $40 a person and includes a dinner buffet and dancing.

For tickets and information, call 630-587-6555

But supporters are welcome to send donations without attending the dinner. Checks may be sent to The Nighthawk Foundation Inc., 16 Big Oaks Road, Streamwood, IL 60107.

One of the children helped by the foundation was a Campton Hills boy who suffers from a painful nerve condition. In 2010, the foundation bought him a therapeutic mattress and paid for a nerve treatment not covered by insurance.

While they were at a fundraiser to help with their bills, a friend asked the boy’s mother, Jackie Walsh, whether they could apply to the Nighthawk Foundation on her behalf and asked what would be the biggest help.

Walsh’s answer was a special bed where her son would have his best chance to sleep, and a ketamine infusion to calm his nerve pain. The bed cost $2,900 and the infusion – not covered by insurance – cost $1,000 – Nighthawk really came through for them, she said.

Ketamine treatments are considered experimental and not covered by insurance in Illinois although they are in other states. Her son benefited from receiving the treatment, she said. And because of the nerve pain, he barely would get two hours of sleep at night. Walsh praised the charity for making such a difference for her son.

“We were up to our eyeballs in medical bills and could not afford a Tempur-Pedic bed,” Walsh said. “The bed gives him support everywhere.”

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