CHAMPAIGN — David McNamara is a 7-year-old boy with developmental delays and a whole lot more: He's cuddly, loving, active and happy.
And for all the help he and his family have received, his parents, Margaret and Paul McNamara, are grateful to the community agency Margaret McNamara calls a "blessing": Developmental Services Center.
"They are very good at being positive, and they have helped us move past the negative thing that has happened to David and helped us in being positive about what he can do," she says.
The McNamara family of Champaign are this year's "spokesfamily" for DSC's annual Tree of Hope campaign, scheduled to kick off Thursday morning with the first bulbs lit on the tree at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Marketview Drive in Champaign.
Tree of Hope is the largest fundraiser of the year for DSC — a Champaign agency that provides services for more than 1,300 children and adults with developmental disabilities.
This year's fundraising goal is $130,000, $5,000 higher than last year's goal, according to DSC Director of Development Janice McAteer. Each lighted bulb on the tree represents a $50 contribution toward the goal.
The McNamaras have six children, and David is among four the couple adopted, Margaret McNamara said.
David, a second-grader at Robeson Elementary School, suffered a stroke-like brain condition when he was 2 years old, she said. The condition came with fever, seizures, loss of his vision and developmental regression, she said.
With early intervention, David regained his vision, learned to walk and his physical skills are now good. But he doesn't speak and has other cognitive delays, McNamara says.
The family was first referred to DSC to seek a grant to help pay for an indoor swing to help David meet some of his sensory needs, McNamara said. Then she and her husband discovered other programs the agency had to offer.
DSC now provides a near-daily helper for David who keeps him occupied for a couple of hours and takes him on outings while she spends time with her other children and gets some work done at home, McNamara said.
David is very active and needs constant supervision, she said. He also loves to walk and play outside and connect with people.
"He is a cuddly, friendly, loving guy," his mother says.
DSC also has helped the McNamara's 12-year-old son, Joseph, who is high-functioning on the autism spectrum, with a social skills group for boys who are at the similar level of social abilities, she said.
Margaret McNamara, who worked as a physical therapist until she gave up her job to stay home with her kids, said she and husband, a University of Illinois professor, couldn't have afforded nearly all this help on their own.
"DSC has been such a big, huge blessing to us, and they deserve the support of the community," she adds. "I don't know what we would do without them. They provide so many services to so many people."
Tree of Hope appeals will go in the mail Thanksgiving week, McAteer said.
The need for local donations continues to increase, she says. The state currently owes DSC $1.5 million, and the agency has received few state payments since July, she said.
"The local funding helps bridge that gap, and it really does makes a significant difference" McAteer said.
Two programs especially needed and expensive to support: DSC's residential program for people with developmental disabilities in group homes and apartments, and an employment program matching clients with employers, she said.
Because the fundraiser is underwritten by corporate sponsors, McAteer said, every dollar donated goes to fund DSC services for its clients and families.
To give to Tree of Hope: go to http://www.dsc-illinois.org  or call 356-9176.