Touch My Heart—Serving the Special Needs Community

December 2013/January 2014 View more

N2013_12_01_101NEIGHAt first glance, a Touch My Heart event may seem like the typical fun fair with hundreds of families enjoying the attractions of a petting zoo, moon jumps, face painting, and crafting stations. But look more closely at one of these frequently sponsored community attractions and you’ll quickly realize that it’s so much more.

Touch My Heart, the brainchild of Rick and Wendy Montalbano, is a nonprofit organization based in Naperville that raises money to offer free outings, events, and celebrations for special needs individuals and their families.

“We run these big outreach events where the special needs community can come and just be loved and not be judged. As a community, we can come together to encompass and enrich the lives of these wonderful human beings that tend to be overlooked, forgotten, or devalued in today’s society,” said Rick Mantalbano. The organization’s outreach focuses on the special needs community, 80% of which are wards of the state and 20% still reside with their families.

The events offered throughout the year are made possible by the fund raising efforts of the organization and by the contribution of hundreds of volunteers. Although each event is different, most of them incorporate music and dance like the Valentine’s Sock-hop every February, the Naperville Intersection event in April, or one of their most popular events – the Summer Carnival. This past year, more than 1,000 people enjoyed carnival attractions like petting zoos, train rides, moon jumps, therapy horse rides and other fun and games.

This past fall, Touch My Heart hosted their Trunks and Treats event for Halloween. “In October we partner with The Compass Church,” said Mantalbano. “There are many kids in wheelchairs, with other disabilities, or from group homes that can’t functionally go trick or treating in the community. Trunk or Treats is an event we host where the community comes out and decorates the back of their cars and treats go into the trunks. Along with tables of crafts and food and pumpkins, kids can trick or treat from car to car. There are so many people who just love it.”

The enriched lives created through the recreation, education, and socialization programs isn’t just a benefit to those in the disabled community, it also touches the lives of those who volunteer. “What’s great about our events is that for people who might be inhibited about being around those with special needs, they come out, we put them in a place to serve where they’re comfortable. Being there opens them up,” said Montalbano. “Those preconceived notions are erased and they begin to just mingle and start talking and interacting.”

Making his living in the high-end furniture business, Rick knows about the transforming power of volunteering from his personal experience. In the early 70s, he volunteered with his father, who worked with a local fraternal organization that provided help to local institutions for the disabled.

Impacted by what he saw, and moved with a desire to help improve the lives and conditions of those with disabilities, Rick began to run the local chapter of the fraternity himself as a regional director in his 20s. As it’s momentum grew, he and his wife decided it was time to begin Touch My Heart, a volunteering endeavor that now, as an entire family, includes the heart-felt involvement of their three children.

“I believe that any person that follows their dreams and is passionate about what they do, will make a difference in this world. We named it Touch my Heart thinking that it was the hearts of the special needs community that we were touching. But truly, it is our hearts that are being touched.”

For more information about volunteering visit