Hallee Kammerman, 9, from Aledo, loves gymnastics so much she sometimes doesn’t want to leave the gym.
Her favorite school subject is English. She’s “like a fish” in the water, especially after she attended a swim camp taught by United Township High School students.
And she can often be heard belting “The Champion” by Carrie Underwood during her weekly physical therapy sessions at Rock Island’s Children’s Therapy Center of the Quad Cities, a nonprofit that provides therapy services regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Children’s Therapy Center of the Quad-Cities is relying more heavily than ever on grants, most recently one from the East Moline Community Fund, and donations to fund its operations.
Kammerman was born prematurely at 34 weeks. Doctors diagnosed her with spina bifida, which is a birth defect where the backbone and spinal cord membranes don’t close completely, and hydrocephalus, which is a build up of fluid in cavities inside the brain.
An hour after she was born, doctors performed surgery to repair the hole in her spine.
Her parents were told she would never walk.
But with consistent therapy and determination, she did.
At her Tuesday appointment at the center’s Rock Island location, which is filled with color everywhere you turn, she swung across monkey bars, balanced on a swing-like contraption while shooting colorful balls into a basketball hoop, and took careful steps down a ramp.
Kammerman and her family say she would never be able to do the things she loves: swimming, gymnastics, biking, running around, without the center's services.
She has been a regular client of the center since she was a toddler, one of hundreds of children, some as young as infants, the center’s therapists see every year.
The Children’s Therapy Center provides physical, occupational, speech, and feeding therapy for children, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. The center also helps with other services: diaper drives, food basket donations for the holidays, drives for coats and hats, and partners with Metrolink to help patients get to their location.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, more than three-quarters of the center’s services are not reimbursed by insurance or payment from a family. Previously, about 70% of their services were not reimbursed.
Administrators attribute the increase to job loss during the pandemic, which can mean families lose insurance benefits provided by their employer.
Add to that that traditional fundraising methods are complicated by the pandemic: large events nixed to mitigate COVID-19 spread in crowds and businesses declining or shrinking donations because of financial troubles during the pandemic.
All that means most of the center’s operating costs, between $700,000 and $1 million, are funded by donations and grants.
Most recently, the center received a grant this month from the East Moline Community Fund to provide services for East Moline children.
“We're unique because we help our kids, even the ones that can't afford to pay. So, how do we do that? Donations, fundraising events but a big, big deal is grants from local organizations,” the center’s vice president, Chris Van Speybroeck, said. “The East Moline Community Fund have been great supporters, and they help us to continue to do what we do, otherwise we wouldn't be able to afford it.”
Center president and CEO Angie Peterson said the Children’s Therapy Center hired three new therapists in the last year. Peterson estimated the waiting list had doubled for the center’s services between spring 2020 and 2021. Children are referred to the center by a doctor.
“People have lost jobs, and they've lost their insurance,” Van Speybroeck said. “So, you know, as a result of that, our waiting lists have increased for our services. People have lost their insurance. Now they have Medicaid. Not all clinics take people with Medicaid insurance.”
The Children’s Therapy Center was one of 15 organizations to receive grants from the East Moline Community Fund. The endowment, managed by the Moline Foundation, distributes grants annually to nonprofit organizations that serve East Moline residents. Established in 2011, 11 committee members meet each fall to decide on grant recipients. Since it started giving grants in 2014, the fund has distributed more than $125,000.
Moline Foundation President and CEO Paul Plagenz said while the fund is not as large as some decades-old funds the Moline Foundation manages, the East Moline Community Fund is expected to continue to grow.
Since its inception by four East Moline community members in 2011, the fund has had more than 120 other donors, and currently has $400,000 invested, Plagenz said.
The East Moline Community Fund is also embarking on a fundraising campaign to raise $20,000 by Dec. 31. If the nonprofit reaches its goal, the Moline Foundation will donate 10,000 as part of a match program. So far, Plagenz said The East Moline Community Fund has raised about $4,000.
For leaders of nonprofits like the Children's Therapy Center of the Quad-Cities, every grant and donation counts.
"These last 18 months have really tested us to help as many kids that need help," Peterson said.