Organization gives voice to children, teens with special needs

By: Bridget O'Shea | | @OSheaBridget

BARRINGTON Tuesday Dec 13 2013 While five-year-old Ben Klingnofer of Hoffman Estates checks out his new stuffed bear, his three-year-old brother Eli receives help from their mother Becky with unwrapping his present during the Barrington Area Special Voices' Evening with Santa held at the Lutheran Church of Atonement. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media

Seasonal activities like trick-or-treating and visits to Santa are much-anticipated events in many children’s lives, but can be stressful on those who have special needs.

Fortunately for children and families in the Barrington area, a unique organization formed in 2007 allows special needs children to participate in these activities in an environment that caters to them.

“We started off as parents of special needs kids. We all met through our children,” said David Holt, co-founder of the local nonprofit Barrington Area Special Voices. “We put on events for special needs children designed to fit their unique needs.”

Special Voices serves children with all types of physical, emotional and developmental disabilities.

For example, Holt said, the organization holds an allergen-free trick-or-treating event every year on the day before Halloween. Parents are given a map of which houses are handing out allergen-free candy.

“About 8 percent of kids have food allergies, which can make traditional trick-or-treating stressful to some parents,” Holt said. “The kids have a blast.”

Special Voices also holds an annual Santa Night every December at Atonement Church, where kids receive their gifts at their own pace instead of waiting in line at a crowded shopping mall.

“The gifts are specific to each child,” Holt explained.

Holt said the group also holds regular events like open gym nights several times a week.

“We are largely an activities-based organization,” Holt explained. “My son has autism for example, and it isn’t his strength to play team sports. BASV hosts events such as the open gym events that allow him the freedom to be himself.”

However, putting together activities for area special needs children and their families is not the only achievement of Special Voices. Holt said the organization was instrumental in the recent construction of the Early Learning Center on Dundee Road.

“They had closed down a school in Carpentersville in the 1980s because of asbestos,” Holt said. “They re-opened that school and crammed all these kids in, so we were very upset.”

Holt said the Carpentersville school served special needs children but lacked accommodations such as wheelchair ramps and lowered shelves.

“We decided to start a movement to build another school and we were successful,” he said.

Holt credits several other local organizations including District 220, the District 220 Educational Foundation, Barrington Area Development Council and the Barrington Area Community Foundation, and Noon Rotary for the creation and growth of BASV. 

Holt said Special Voices serves over 200 families throughout Barrington, Lake Zurich, Fox River Grove and Palatine. In order to involve more adolescents and teens, he said, they have partnered with the local Special Olympics and recently initiated a basketball team for special needs children.

“The goal was to start a basketball team and next year, they will start a soccer program in the fall,” said Holt, adding that this is important because previously, the only sport for special needs children was track and field, which only takes place in the spring. BASV provides uniforms and helps fund an award night.

“These kids really look forward to track and field in the spring, but they didn’t have activities for the rest of the year,” Holt said.

Volunteers, Holt said, are always welcome to join in events throughout the year such as the annual hay wagon ride every October.

Last year, the Barrington High School Lacrosse team came out to help kids in and out of the wagon and assist in activities like pumpkin decorating.

“The whole team came out,” Holt said. “The participation was amazing.”

Special Voice’s annual fundraiser, the Shamrock Shindig, will take place this year on March 8 at McGonigal’s Pub. Go to to check out the details.

Halloween for Kids with Allergies and Special Needs: A Happy Story, A Genius Idea, Parents Magazine Online, October 18, 2012

Halloween 'saved' for special needs children, Chicago Tribune, October 18, 2012

An Evening with Santa in Barrington, Barrington Courier-Review, December 13, 2011