At the recent Parents & Guardians Meeting at GTL on Monday, July 17th, Executive Director Cheryl Hennelly announced her plan to retire effective April 1, 2018. While the announcement was emotional, it comes with the full blessing of the Board of Directors, staff, and families of GTL. Cheryl has been at GTL for 32 years, starting as an Instructor in 1985 and then serving as Executive Director since 2003.

The Board of Directors, Cheryl, and senior staff have formed a transition team that will work to position the organization for continued success for the next leader of the GTL. As she stated at the Parents & Guardians Meeting, Cheryl will continue to support and be involved as much as she can after retirement. “I love this organization too much to just walk away; it’s my second home,” she said.

There have only been three Executive Directors in the 43 year history of GTL, with 42 of those years being lead by founder, Dorothy Hough, and Cheryl, currently. This is a sad and emotional moment in the history of GTL, but the Board and staff promise to use this as opportunity to strengthen their commitment towards the mission of GTL to assist individuals with intellectual disabilities reach their fullest potential.


In June, GTL launched a new fundraising and awareness event series called: “Cooking for A Cause”. GTL has a facility with five kitchens and training programs centered around those kitchens, so it only seemed natural to incorporate those assets while bringing the community in our doors.

The chef for our first event in June 2017 was Chef Joey Beato, Community Tavern. Chef Beato and his sous chef (who is also his wife) demonstrated key techniques and discussed ingredients with 18 attendees for an Asian-fusion themed three course meal. The attendees then dined in Dorothy’s Can-Do Café on the delicious meal before touring the facility to learn more about GTL. The money raised through this event series will be earmarked for the purchase of new commercial grade appliances for the facility.

Thank you to Chef Beato, his wife, and all of the individuals who attended our first event!! We also would like to thank our sponsors: Mary Beth Nebel—Owner, I know you like a book New & Used Books; The Chopping Block; The Freehling Pot & Pan Co.; Oglesby Construction, Inc.; Mariano’s Fresh Market; Trader Joe’s; Community Tavern; Victor & Penny Bernstein; Kimberly Oglesby; John Ratzenberger; and Paula Moscinski.


Debra Cassino experienced her calling to work with people with disabilities back in elementary school.  There was a little girl in her third grade class who was seen as “different” from the other children.  Debra didn’t see her that way.  She saw a classmate who needed just a little extra help, and Debra was there to give it.  Many years later, Debra looks back on that pivotal relationship that brought her to Gateway 23 years ago as a teacher’s aide.  There she learned how to get into the world of individuals with intellectual disabilities.  She learned sign language, listened more deeply, and developed a  patience for their learning process.  After four years in that position, she moved on to becoming a Developmental Specialist, the position she still holds today.  Her specialty is working with adults with autism. 

Debra works to change the expectations of educating adults with intellectual disabilities.  She firmly believes that every individual is capable of moving to a new level of skill and/or cognitive performance.  She does not allow her participants to stay comfortable in what they know and can do.  She continually is raising the bar on their capacity to learn and perform.  There are more times than not where families are amazed at their children’s achievements from when they first entered Gateway’s program. 

Debra would like to thank the families and friends of Gateway who stand behind and uplift the staff in their educational endeavors. “The work is challenging at best, but knowing that we’re not doing it alone is a great gift.”


The Lunch Program, one of the cornerstone programs at GTL, is an all-encompassing training platform for participants. Whether they are folding linen, counting lunch orders, or reading recipe ingredients, participants from one of five production centers are practicing their manual and cognitive skills in daily life activities. Approximately 60 participants touch some part of the process that produces a nutritional and tasty lunch for approximately 50 individuals each day. It takes organization, a project management plan, an index of tasks broken down by skills, and a synchronization of diverse activities to have it all come together each day at 12:00 pm. 
More importantly are the skills being honed – counting lunch orders and side dishes, measuring ingredients, reading recipes, cleaning the food facilities, washing cookware, organizing the cupboards, setting up the food carts, and performing food preparation skills such as stirring, cutting, and shredding. These skills are exercised in a particular production center – menu inventory, ingredients and kitchen supply delivery, food preparation, laundry, and cleaning maintenance. All five centers work in harmony to get lunch on the table and clean-up completed. 
Participants, with the input of their parents or guardian, choose the production center in which he or she wants to work. Their progress is checked regularly, but for many of them, it’s all about doing the work they enjoy. In the words of one participant who echoed the unanimous sentiment of her peers, “We get the job done!” It’s a grand accomplishment every day. 
The true magnitude of the Lunch Program is realized in meeting its main objective – self-sufficiency and transference of skills to home life. Before learning how to program a microwave, Kim was randomly pressing buttons. Then there’s Mario whose mother did everything for him. Through the Lunch Program, he now makes his own sandwiches at home. ViVi, with proper training, learned how to use a knife to slice cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. She is now the salad maker at her house. Also, Nii has become the baker in his family as a result of following the chocolate chip cookie recipe used for Dorothy’s Can-Do Cafe. 
Congratulations to them and to all participants who taken one step closer to reaching their fullest potential.

Dan Allen became the ninth and newest member of the GTL Board of Directors in April, 2017.  He brings with him a wealth of board experience, currently serving on the Boards of Directors of the Chicago Building Congress, Choose DuPage (County Economic Development), and the Workers Compensation Research Institute. Dan is the Executive Director of the Construction Industry Service Organization (CISCO), which represents union contractors and skilled union workers in northeastern Illinois.  Gateway participated in the CISCO Annual Luncheon in April, providing cookies for all attendees, and personally meeting and impressing the membership, including Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. An instant bond and partnership was formed, resulting in Gateway being selected as a benefactor of the upcoming CISCO charity golf outing to be held in September.     

Dan’s board experience is upstaged only by his compassion for Gateway’s participants and their families.  He has witnessed first-hand the challenges in caring for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  He wants to ensure that Gateway continues to be the source of a safe environment where participants can experience the independence and the freedom that comes with learning new things.  


Gateway to Learning
Special Education
and Training Center

4925 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625-2609

P. 773-784-3200
F. 773-784-3299

 Dorothy's Can Do Cafe
4925 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625-2609  

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