Drawing close to Pekin, we stayed with a friend of Amber’s in the small town of Mackinaw. Ronda King opened up her house to us as if we were her family. When we arrived, we were greeted in the backyard by her three dogs. Of course, a proper dog frolic was in order. Max made friends with Ronda’s big silly chocolate Lab named Reese and they tore it up.
Ronda offered us a wonderful dinner, and then Kait and I retired upstairs to watch a movie. In the midst of this strange adventure, it was a welcome change to curl up on the couch for a normal-people-type date night. The next morning, we left to walk into Pekin. We met Randy Wheat and his dad for breakfast, and Ronda joined us as well. Over eggs and sausage, Randy told us about his rescue organization, R.A.I.N. of Central Illinois and all the amazing work they do. Unfortunately, we had to part ways just when our conversation was getting interesting.
As we moved west, Ronda offered to pick us up at the end of the day and host us for a second night. She even invited Randy over for dinner, so we would have more time to talk and share ideas. We made it 19 miles to the Pekin Post Office before Ronda rescued us. On top of her generosity, she offered to help us do some visits in the Pekin area by providing transportation. With a car in the mix, we got in touch with a children’s home in hopes of scheduling a visit.
We ended up talking to the Tazewell County Resources Center, which operates several facilities in the area. The next day, Ronda drove us to the Newlun Center in Tremont. Newlun is a day training facility for adults with developmental disabilities, and they were overjoyed to meet us. The center provides self-care training, workplace training, and contract employment for over 100 team members, giving them an opportunity to have some independence and gainful activity every day. They had tons of questions about our dogs and the walk, and their enthusiasm was infectious.
We also stopped in at the Miller Home for Children – also managed by TCRC – to visit with their residents. In the backyard, we asked questions and shared thoughts as Max and Grace mingled.
While some of the residents were very outgoing, others were reserved and quiet, unresponsive, or profoundly disabled. We always try to engage with everyone at a visit, but these visits can be pretty challenging. We are still very new to working with the profoundly disabled, and there is always more to learn. As we left, we were surprised as every single resident said goodbye to us by name – even residents that hadn’t spoken much or engaged with us.
Greg Cassidy, the senior Vice President of TCRC, explained that TCRC is responsible for two day training facilities and six group homes in the area. They have been active in the area for over 40 years, working to empower and support disabled adults. In addition to work placement and job coaching, TCRC has contracts with shipping companies to produce packaging to transport many products. They also assemble maps and travel packets for the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, and those materials ship worldwide. Greg has high hopes that a new kitchen that was just approved can be used to work with local schools, providing local produce for fresh lunches. All in all, TCRC has a well-rounded and innovative infrastructure for empowering their team members, and helping them give back to their community.
After hosting us for three nights, cooking for us, hosting a dinner party, and chauffeuring us to and from our visits, Ronda dropped us off at the Pekin post office to pick up where we left off. When we thanked her for her hospitality, she told us that when she was younger, she left home and was taken in by kind friends. She felt that without their support, she could have ended up in a very bad way – and she is always trying to pass her good fortune along to those who need it. We were all thrilled that she got to follow Max and Grace on a therapy visit, to see firsthand the impact that pet therapy can have. Ronda left us feeling very loved and inspired along the road, and we can’t thank her enough.
We picked up our new box of Love from The Honest Kitchen before leaving the post office. This is always the dogs’ favorite kind of mail drop, because it’s delicious.
Before we left Pekin, there was one more magical surprise awaiting us: David. Back in March, David Mcholland started his cross-country hike in support of the Special Olympics just days after us. He caught up quickly, and we spent several days hiking with David early in the walk.
Unfortunately, due to a serious medical situation David had to abandon his hike only 400 miles in. He is a very positive and uplifting person, and we were very sad that he had to drop out so soon. But thanks to serendipity (and a little internet stalking) he found us on the road in Pekin and we had a chance to catch up. It’s always a pleasure to see a friendly face, and David told us about his hopes and plans for another attempt at the Hike. Good luck out there!
And with that, we crossed the Illinois River and left Tazewell County behind us.