Thursday, August 20, 2009

Group helping hearing-impaired students left stranded at oasis

Source Link - Group helping hearing-impaired students left stranded at oasis

The Hinsdale Oasis overlooking the Tri-State Tollway is no place to spend four hours waiting for a bus.

But there were Raven Stromek and a group of families on April 27, waiting patiently for a ride to the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, west of Springfield.

The bus, from Sleepless in the City Mini Bus Service Inc., never showed, Stromek said.

The Melrose Park-based transit company did, however, cash the $1,725 check from the Illinois Service Resource Center for the phantom journey.

Now, Sleepless in the City won't give the money back.

"It really is unfortunate," said Stromek, a deaf and hard-of-hearing specialist at the resource center. "Our funding is so limited. That's money we can't use to service our families in other ways because it's tied up in this mess."

The resource center, an arm of the Illinois State Board of Education, coordinates services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and exhibit behavioral, emotional or mental health challenges.

The trip was designed to take about 50 people, including students and their families, to the Illinois School for the Deaf for a tour.

After waiting several hours for Sleepless in the City to show, resource center employees called the bus company but could not reach anyone, said Cheri Sinnott, the center's director. Sinnott said she then began calling other bus companies and found one that agreed to transport the students at the last minute. The other company charged more than $3,000 for the service, but Sinnott said she had little choice.

Sinnott said an employee from Sleepless in the City called her back about 10:30 that morning, roughly six hours after the company was supposed to have picked up the first group of students and their families.

The employee told her she would look into the situation, Sinnott said.

She has not heard from Sleepless in the City since. "I've sent faxes, I've made calls, I've sent certified mail," she said.

The money, Sinnott said, is vital for her agency, especially in tough economic times.

"Those are funds that are intended to serve students and families of people who are deaf in Illinois," she said.

The Problem Solver called Sleepless in the City last week. A man named Rick called back within minutes.

Rick, who did not stay on the phone long enough to give his last name, said the resource center never confirmed the April 27 trip and that the signed sheet Sinnott faxed to the bus company in early April was not a contract.

He said Sleepless in the City called the center to confirm the trip on April 25 but no one from the center called back.

"We do not send our buses out unless we have confirmation," Rick said. He said he kept the $1,725 because Sinnott booked a similar trip in January but never paid.

When the Problem Solver told Rick his account didn't match Sinnott's, he abruptly ended the conversation.

The Problem Solver called Rick back and left three messages and sent an e-mail. None of those messages were returned.

It appears Rick might have confused Sinnott's agency with another one.

The Jan. 9 trip Rick said Sinnott booked was instead booked by the Illinois School for the Deaf, not the Illinois Service Resource Center. Sinnott said she had nothing to do with that booking.

A contract from the Jan. 9 trip, provided by the Illinois School for the Deaf, shows it was signed by someone other than Sinnott; her name is not on the contract.

The school provided the Problem Solver with a copy of an invoice and a computerized ledger sheet that shows Sleepless in the City was paid Feb. 2.

"We paid within a month," said Sherry Little, office coordinator for the school.

As for that call Rick said Sleepless in the City placed to confirm the April 27 booking? Sinnott said neither she nor her agency received any message.

The bottom line, she said, is that "we sent them a check which has been cashed. They did not show up that morning."

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