DECATUR -- Every January, 2,300 people load into buses and travel on a course of Decatur bars, playing a miniature golf hole at each and enjoying plenty of food and drinks along the way.

The Miller Lite UCP Barstool Open is the largest in the country, with 52 bars making up seven courses manned by 150 volunteers. It raised more than $94,000 in 2016 — all of it going to United Cerebral Palsy’s Decatur office.

The barstool open succeeds because it’s a fun way to help — when the activity is day-drinking and mini golf, the cause isn’t necessarily top of mind. UCP Decatur Chief Marketing Officer Jenny Dawson said she knows the average participant doesn’t know exactly what their money is going to when they play.

“People know we’re some sort of social service agency, but that’s about it,” Dawson said. “And some people think it’s going to other places besides Decatur, but it’s not. That money is helping people just right here in Decatur. And if we didn’t have it, we’d be in trouble. It’s what keeps us here.”

UCP Decatur serves around 100 individuals with developmental disabilities — not just cerebral palsy — in the Decatur area.

The bulk of the Barstool Open proceeds go to pay for UCP’s after-school program, which it began last year.

“It’s a place they can go until mom and dad are done with work,” Dawson said. “It’s a supplement to whatever they’ve been working on in school, so they can work on their spelling words and homework. And there’s also art and music therapy, and a healthy snack. We’re big into teaching individuals how to take care of themselves, and that includes eating healthy and being active.”

Laura Scoville, a UCP Case Manager and a qualified intellectual disabilities professional, said the after-school program is also a chance for the kids in the group to have interaction with each other.

“We help with with homework and whatever else they need help with, but a big part of it is letting them socialize with peers in a safe place,” Scoville said.

This fall, UCP Decatur brought back its program for high school-aged kids with developmental disabilities, called Teen Abilities. It helps participants with the transition from high school to adulthood.

“We assess their abilities and interests and try to help them decide what’s next,” Dawson said. “We ask them if they’re interested in joining the workforce, or interested in higher education, then help them figure out what the next step is. We also work on social skills and what styles of learning work best for them.”

UCP also has summer and winter camps for kids. Most of UCP’s services are for under-21 individuals, but it does offer free medical support service and transportation and a healthy living program every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m..

Its medical transportation service goes as far as Peoria, St. Louis and Chicago to take individuals to their appointments. If the individual chooses, their case manager can serve as an advocate during doctor’s visits.

“I don’t think people always realize how important that is for our clients,” Dawson said. “If you’re in a motorized wheelchair, you can’t get into a regular vehicle. You have to have a wheelchair-accessible van, and you might have appointments in places other than Decatur that aren’t easy to get to and can cause a big financial strain.

“Then, if the patient asks us to, the case managers can act as a liaison between the doctor and patient. We work with them regularly and understand how they communicate. A physician seeing them twice a year might not be able to do that. It helps the physician understand them, and helps them understand the physician.”

Scoville said UCP case managers take time to know the patients personally in order to better advocate.

“We get close to them — we get attached to the point where we want to take them home,” Scoville said, laughing. “You have to get close to them to learn how they communicate. It’s a lot of responsibility, because the medical part isn’t always easy to understand. But knowing them as well as I do allows me to help foster the communication.”

But even with such a successful fundraiser and another coming up — Puttin‘ for Kids, a children’s outing at Overlook Adventure Mini Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 24 — UCP is struggling financially. UCP Land of Lincoln recently laid off 30 staff members from its four offices in Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield and Champaign.

“It was really hard for a while and we’re still feeling the effects of it,” Dawson said. “We’re all basically doing two jobs now.”

UCP Decatur also had to cut its therapeutic horseback riding program.

“It’s a great program, but it’s costly,” Dawson said. “We hope in the next couple years we’ll be able to bring it back.”

The money UCP Decatur receives comes from a Title XX Donated Funds Initiative Program Plan — UCP receives a grant funded by both state and federal money matching the funds it raises.

“That’s why I saw when the Miller Lite UCP Barstool Open keeps us here, I mean it — it literally keeps us going,” Dawson said.

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Staff Writer

Healthcare and wellness reporter for the Herald & Review.

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