Garden walk to help fund school's outdoor areas

What started off nearly 15 years ago as a home-based school for children and young adults living with autism has become a beacon of light for those families seeking to provide a positive learning environment for their children.

Courtney McClear of Hinsdale was diagnosed with autism at the age of 5 when she lost her ability to speak, had increased anxiety and experienced sensory issues. Five years later, in 2010, Courtney was not progressing in a traditional school setting. Her parents found the Turning Pointe School For Autism Foundation and Courtney became the nonprofit's seventh student.

"When Courtney joined Turning Pointe she had no means of communication," said Courtney's mother, Theresa McClear. "Since joining 10 years ago, Courtney is now able to communicate using an augmentative communication device and (her vocabulary) has grown from 0 words to over 100. She has gained independence and job skills. Witnessing improvements is such a joy, and I am so grateful for the dedicated teachers and staff at Turning Pointe."

According to Autism Speaks, the CDC reported in 2020 that about one in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. This rate has more than doubled over the past two decades, according to the World Health Organization.

Given this increased diagnosis rate, schools like Turning Pointe are needing to quickly expand to accommodate more students. To help meet this growing demand, McClear and other volunteers are chairing the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation Fall Garden Walk on Friday, Sept. 17.

According to the executive director of the Naperville-based school, Carrie Provenzale, the pandemic prompted teachers and staff to access the school's outdoor spaces more. The school transformed its parking lot into a tented outdoor classroom during quarantine.

"Nature is good for everyone," Provenzale said. "Our kids have a long day with extensive therapy. They enjoy (the school's0 sensory gardens, outdoor classrooms and hammock oasis. These are therapeutic benefits in disguise - like hiding spinach in your kid's brownies."

Funds raised at the garden walk will go toward the school's overarching goal to improve its outdoors spaces by implementing a three-year outdoor concept plan donated by the Conservation Foundation.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the gardens of five local homes will be on display, including McClear's own garden, previously showcased in Better Homes & Gardens. The one-acre property is home to conifers, ornamental and specimen trees, walkways, a pond, and vegetable and butterfly gardens. Famed gardener and author Trudi Temple of Hinsdale will be on site to sign her new book and share her gardening tips as well as to reminisce on planting endangered redwoods on the property more than 30 years ago.

For Courtney, being in nature has become a source of therapy.

"Courtney enjoys collecting and storing seeds from marigolds, zinnias and cosmos over the winter and she helps me plant them every summer," McClear said. "Being out in nature is very therapeutic. We are blessed to have this wonderful (outdoor) space and wish to share it with friends for an important cause."

More than 100 people are expected to attend this outdoor-only event. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a champagne VIP brunch, docent guided tours by Hinsdale Nurseries, the book signing and more. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. For tickets, which are $75 for general admission and $100 for VIP admission, visit

Community buzz

The 20th Annual Sports Ball Gala benefiting Aging Care Connections will take place virtually tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 10, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

This year marks the nonprofit's 50th anniversary delivering programs and services to help older adults.

ABC 7 sports anchor Dionne Miller will serve as emcee. To access this free event, streamed on YouTube and Facebook, please visit

- Alexis Braden of Hinsdale is the paper's society columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].

Alexis Braden

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