Newsmakers Making A Difference: Harriet Levy, The Center For Enriched Living

Lisa Fielding
October 02, 2018 - 7:16 am

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Harriet Levy makes the rounds inside the Center for Enriched Living in Riverwoods, a 20,000 square foot facility tucked away off of Saunders Road.

"The Center for Enriched Living was founded in 1968, born out of a need for serving the social needs of children with developmental disabilities," said Levy, Executive Director, CEL. "At that time there were no programs. No social, no nothing for children or people of any ages with developmental disabilities."

The program began in Chicago's Albany Park and it was called the Deborah Boy's Club with two children at the community center.

"That's when CEL was born. It then grew into teen and adult programs and it grew even more because the need was so great," she said.

"I've been coming to the Center for 20 years," said James Lambert, 54, who lives with Autism and spends about two to three days a week in classes and on field trips. "I like working out, taking art classes, taking cook classes, going to the gym too."

He works full-time in the kitchen at Advocate Condell Medical Center.

"I come here after work. I love going bowling the most, but I also love going to the movies and to dinner. I've made friends here," he said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Levy said there is an 85 percent unemployment rate for adults with developmental disabilities.

"We want to lower that number and make sure everybody who wants to work is able to work. That's another component of CEL. For the last two years, we've built an employment opportunities program working with small neighborhood businesses to large corporations and really working on the interest and needs of our members," she said.

Liz Starshak, 36, was one of those who couldn't find work.

"I felt there was no place for me," she recalls. "I didn't understand why no one would give me a chance."

Starshak is now the Center for Enriched Living's receptionist.

"I literally jumped at this opportunity. I work as a part time receptionist and as an office assistant," Starshak said. "It's amazing to be at the front desk and be the first face people see."

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

She said the position has changed her life and her sense of self.

"They embrace disabilities to a level I've never seen before," she said shaking her head. "I was a loner in high school and had no resume. I was never given a chance. Nothing seemed to fill the empty hole that I felt until now."

CEL serves more than 400 people a year from 50 communities and there are plans to expand into Hoffman Estates and Naperville. The newly renovated facility has a kitchen, gym, garden and work and social space. Levy said it's more than just a recreational center, it's a home and a community for those who need it most.

"They're human beings, they're fun and they're full of grace and they are just lovely people who just want to live their lives and live a full life in the community," Levy said.


WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"Giving someone a chance. I thought I'd never hear the word employee or hired. For me, it's become my mantra. it's like a right of passage to be called an employee, to be given a chance, to have new horizons open to you where your dreams simply come true. This job that I've received has changed me tremendously and I have this place to thank," Starshak said.

Levy has worked at CEL for 30 years and during that time, she said she's seen thousands of adults use the facility and thrive through its programs.

"People want to belong and to be part of a community and have friends. We all want to have that sense of belonging because that brings meaning and purpose to our lives," she said.

CEL is a 501(c)3 agency and will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Thursday, October 11 at Loft 21 in Lincolnshire. Tickets are $50 and are available at

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

READ MORE: Newsmakers Making A Difference: Chris Baker, Owner Of INK 180 Ministry | Newsmakers Making A Difference: Carrie Capes, Founder Of HorsePower Therapeutic Riding | Newsmakers Making A Difference: Stephanie Weber, Suicide Prevention Services Of America Newsmakers Making A Difference: Deborah Giesler, Synapse House Newsmakers Making A Difference: Bob And Sonya Evanosky, Aspen Lane Wine Company