2018 Tree of Hope spokesfamily credits DSC with helping son to speak

2018 Tree of Hope spokesfamily credits DSC with helping son to speak

CHAMPAIGN — Hearing 8-year-old Hunter Dilley talking now, you'd never know he struggled with an uncommon speech disorder as a toddler, his mother says.

The St. Joseph mom credits Developmental Services Center and one of its speech therapists for the progress Hunter has made.

"They never made us feel like just another family they were just providing services for," Kristen Dilley said. "They actually made us feel like we were part of their family."

The Dilley family, which includes Kristen and her husband, Craig; their son, Hunter; and daughter, Harper, are serving as this year's spokesfamily to help promote DSC's annual Tree of Hope campaign, which is being launched today.

This is the 25th year for Tree of Hope, DSC's main fundraiser for the year. A Champaign-based agency that serves adults and children with developmental disabilities or delays, DSC hopes to raise $175,000 through this year's campaign — $10,000 more than last year — to help support its services.

As in years past, the agency will be marking fundraising progress by lighting bulbs on its signature tree at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Marketview Drive in Champaign.

Kristen Dilley said her son began receiving services with DSC when he was about 18 months old. While he'd started off forming typical baby words, she said, "all of a sudden it stopped."

Hunter was diagnosed at age 3 with childhood verbal apraxia, a motor speech disorder in which messages from the brain to the mouth don't get through correctly to make sounds.

Kristen Dilley said she and Hunter learned sign language together from videos they rented from the University of Illinois library. Meanwhile, intensive speech therapy Hunter got through DSC through age 4 helped him retrain his brain, she said.

"Currently, he is completely verbal," she said. "If you spoke with Hunter on the phone today, you'd never know he was nonverbal at that time."

An energetic boy who loves U.S. history and can name all the presidents and vice presidents, Hunter still goes to speech therapy to help him catch up from his earlier delay, his mom said.

Their former speech therapist at DSC has continued to be in touch with the family and be a resource in the four years since Hunter aged out of DSC's program, Dilley said.

This season's Tree of Hope campaign will run through Jan. 31.

DSC Director of Development Janice McAteer said donations will help the agency fill in budget gaps, because state reimbursements haven't kept up with actual costs of providing services.

The agency plans to send out Tree of Hope appeal letters to all residents of Champaign and Ford counties during Thanksgiving week with envelopes for people to donate by mail, McAteer said.

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