Gateway has been very fortunate to have educational and administrative professionals who are dedicated to its mission and the development of its participants. They have impressive backgrounds in their field and a story to tell.  In this edition meet:

Donna Potyrala-Zajac

For Donna Zajac, one can just tell that education is in her blood and adults with special needs are in her heart. The positions that she has held at Gateway for the past 25 years are a testament to that. Donna has occupied the position of Adult Program Director for the past ten years, but she has played an integral part in Gateway’s evolution and progress in other roles since 1994. Donna’s first job was a Transporter for one of GTL’s participants. After Donna became a part of life at Gateway, co-founder Dorothy Hough enlisted Donna’s talents to become a special education instructor, and she started in a substitute teaching role. When Gateway changed to an adult training center, Donna transitioned her role as well and became an instructor in the main kitchen.
With Cheryl Hennelly‘s guidance and additional training, Donna became the Adult Program Director. In addition to her responsibilities to work in tandem with the education staff setting participants’ learning objectives and activity schedules, Donna has a single-focused mission—to increase the choice of work opportunities for the participants who are enrolled in one of the paid work programs which are in GTL’s learning curriculum. It is the bottom-line productivity performance which she witnesses in the participants that has her inspired to enter into partnerships with organizations which can provide work opportunities. As with every mission there is challenge. Sourcing those partnerships doesn’t come easy; yet it is what keeps Donna planning for the future fresh and creative.
As Donna takes a step back to see the big picture of Gateway, she cites two great needs:
  1. GTL participants need to have a greater participation in the life of the community. The community provides a powerful training ground for acquiring and practicing life skills
  2. The community needs to see how Gateway contributes to its fabric. 
According to Donna, “There’s lots of potential to take Gateway from good to great by better meeting these two needs. Hand in hand we can bring out the best in each other.”

Debra: Lately I’ve been having some wonderful conversations with parents about the positive changes in their children’s development. Kevin and I are privileged to witness their progress in becoming more independent in their everyday activities like making their own lunch, initiating healthy person hygiene habits, and showing a true desire to come to GTL. In the spirit of gratitude, parents ask me what are we doing to cause these growth outcomes. It’s a nobrainer to first look to the Gateway staff whose commitment to serving and educating each participant is deep and wide at the same time. They form partnerships with the participants for mutual learning to occur by looking at each participant’s unique potential and build a learning platform from that. They are continuously building a learning community that helps every GTL participant create his and her special meaning for their experience at Gateway. For others, it is a social place where they get to hang out with their friends. I also know for other participants, it’s their place to gain proficiency at daily living skills.
Kevin: We want to use this column to acknowledge the multi-talented GTL staff. There is no recipe book for how to professionally handle a spectrum of behaviors, inject energy and playfulness in learning, and establish trusting relationships with participants. But they do! Their “secret sauce” is handling each situation with wisdom, compassion, and thoughtful action. Everyone who knows the GTL staff will agree that their job is challenging and often times trying, but they make it look easy. With the world experiencing upheaval chaos, Gateway participants are experiencing all that is good in the world thanks to the tireless efforts of Gateway’s staff. ROCK ON to our colleagues!




I’m writing this column to help GTL parents and caregivers feel confident about the decisions they are making for their child and to enable them to take the appropriate action that benefits the whole family. As everyone’s situation is different, I am happy to be a resource for anyone who has further questions. I can be reached here.

Letter of Intent

You know your children better that anyone else. You simply have the most information regarding their medical history, experiences, habits, and desires. If you have a child with special needs, this kind of information is extremely important to future caregivers. Think about what would happen if you suddenly became unable to provide your child with the necessary support he or she needs. Without you, your child will become dependent on other caregivers who simply do not possess all of your personal knowledge and insight.

Preparing a Letter of Intent is a key step you can take now to minimize the natural disruption that will occur when you can no longer care for your child. A Letter of Intent is one of the most important documents a parent can prepare, and it does not even require the use of an attorney. Any format will do. The goal of the letter is to summarize your child’s needs so as to guide future caregivers in providing the best possible care.

While the document should provide background on your child’s history, who the important people are, and all important medical information, it should definitely also include the intangible information about who your child really is. What are his or her hobbies, preferences, and behavioral issues?  Maybe they have important daily habits or favorite meals or TV shows that are a part of their everyday routine. Whatever it is that makes your child the unique person he or she is, you cannot provide too much information to a future caregiver.

As parents and caregivers of special needs adults,you're either attending to their present well-being or thinking and planning for their secure future. It's a big responsibility - one that requires continuous learning about available resources, changing laws and opportunities. Gerry King, lawyer and senior vice president at Fairhaven Wealth Management LLC, andfriend of Gateway, will be providing that information in his new GTL Gazette column, "Managing Your Child's Life." For 18 years he has been providing objective, comprehensive financial planning and advisory services for families who have loved ones with special needs.


GTL participants got a chance to be one with nature—the nature of animals, that is. A trip to Lincoln Park Zoo offered some surprises by being up close to witness how animals behave. As one participant, Kaisa, put it, “There were fishes flying under water! I also liked the color of the birds and the hair on the two big lions.” Dexter had three favorites: “The armadillo, the monkeys, and the birds.” The zoo was not only about animals for some participants such as for Coleen and Adam. Coleen said, “I like being with my friends.” For Adam, “Driving the tractor at the Farm in the Zoo was my best time.”


These outings are an important and effective way for GTL’s participants to learn and develop, and they require dollars for them to occur. If you are encouraged by what you have read in the article please go to and make a donation for a future outing. Any amount results in something good for our Gateway community.



Gateway School Picnic





Family Picnic—Rolling Out the Days of Summer







Zoo Sightings







The July 14th Lincoln Square Farmers’ Market had the GTL booth buzzing with great conversation, people buying cookies and making donations while learning more about who we are. GTL participants Coleen, Mario, and Sherri worked the crowd making all visitors feel welcomed. They did a great job enticing passersby’s with the tagline: “Best cookies in Chicago,” generating curiosity and interest in GTL. A new Farmers’ Market volunteer, Kate Jarosch, is a new Albany Park resident. Kate was looking for volunteer opportunities when she met GTL Board member Victor Bernstein at a networking event. Kate sees the Farmers’ Market as her opportunity to connect with people and to help promote Gateway’s presence in the community. We thank Kate for the contribution she’s making to Gateway. And thanks to the staff and Victor Bernstein who prepped the booth so that everyone could work their magic!

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and Training Center

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Chicago, IL 60625-2609

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