Training disability into possibility

Calvin Roe, Staffer

After decades of service in the Oak Park community, Therese Brennock has been awarded the 2019 Thonar Award by the Rush University Medical Center.

The award, beginning in 1991, has been annually given to someone who has “trained a disability into a possibility”. Brennock accomplished this by her work with students with social-emotional issues at Rush Oak Park Hospital (ROPH).

“We needed to set up a program because there was nothing for students with social-emotional issues after they graduated from high school,” she says. Eventually, a  work-study program was established where students would go to OPRF for one half of the day and ROPH for the other.

Her program was centered around working intensely with students, especially with ones that didn’t plan to go on to college. “It was trying to get students work-ready,” she says. “Weather it’s behavior, appearance, attendance, and how they work in the job cite (at ROPH).” 

One challenge that Brennock faced was dealing with students who were behind academically at the high school. Brennock fought to give her students a chance to get back on track. “We gave them two credits and we often waived their PE. They also got the chance to win two $1000 scholarships,” she says.

Besides helping students meet graduation requirements, the program also allowed students to stay enrolled at OPRF. “ROPH has been amazing to the high school,” she says. “We prevented a lot of students from going to private school by having that program there.”

This work lead to immediate respect from students, along with colleagues along the way. “The students confide in Therese when they can confide in no one else,” says the current program supervisor Amy Stanis. “She is a true leader and advocate for her students.”

When Brennock’s work began, her father was her main source of motivation. “He was the kindest man in the whole world and he loved Oak Park High School. He would say ‘go, Therese, go!’,” she says. By coincidence, Brennock was awarded by Rush Oct. 25, six years to the day of her father’s passing.

Her program has been rebranded as Community Integrated Transition Education, or CITE. What pushed the program to the heights of its capabilities was Brennock’s work ethic. She spent extra hours on the weekend cleaning out lockers, washing the kids’ clothes, and relentlessly asking for more things from management. 

“I feel like I always go above and beyond in whatever I do. I dedicated my heart and soul to this job.”