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Volunteers bring gifts, cheer to Marklund residents

BLACKBERRY TOWNSHIP – Rambo the therapy dog was dressed in his Christmas best, with a red jacket and Santa hat strapped to his head, when he let Lisa Wilke pet him.

The dog was an extra treat for Christmas Eve at Marklund at Mill Creek near Geneva, where 270 volunteers came to help residents with severe developmental disabilities open their presents.

Laura and Rick Albanese of North Riverside brought Rambo and a bunch of gifts.

“Today for Christmas Eve, it means so much to be able to be here with the residents on such a happy occasion,” Laura Albanese said.

Wilke, 31, a Marklund resident since she was 3 years old, has developmental disabilities, said her mother, Barbara Wilke of Glendale Heights. She and her husband, Albin Wilke, sat with their daughter amid gifts brought by volunteers.

“It’s kind of exciting for them,” Wilke said.

Another parent, Virginia Fritz of St. Charles, was with her youngest son, Mike Fritz, 35, as he tried to open a present. She praised the event.

“It gives some other people that live nearby an opportunity to give something to somebody special, who does not have all the other things the rest of us have,” Virginia Fritz said.

Even staff brought gifts for those they care for, such as Keaira Banks, who brought items for Sophia Esparaza, 28.

“After working with them ... you just grow to love each other,” Banks said.

To Esparaza’s mother, Ondrea Snyder of North Aurora, the extra measure of giving means her daughter is truly cared for by the people who take care of her.

“It means so much because I need to feel comfortable – like she’s loved here,” Snyder said. “So, when they come here and do these additional things, they are extending love. They are an extension of family. … And today is important. I do believe that my daughter feels the love and the caring, even though she can’t express it.”

Jodie Paetz, developmental training manager at Marklund, said the expressions of sharing gifts and time with residents are important because they show the generosity of the community.

“It gets people involved,” Paetz said. “It allows them to have new experiences, as well as have great interaction with our clients.”

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