Yes, I know that’s not a real song.
But I had no other way to title this. It’s an original title for a brand new project of mine.
It’s perhaps the most important thing I’ve done since marrying my husband and starting my incredible family.
My very dear friend and I are opening a parent-led sensory gym. As a non-profit. For kids just like mine.
We’re calling it “SenseAbility Gym: A Sensory Gym for Sensational Kids“.
But first…the back story.
This winter, my friend and I took our sons to an open sensory gym in sponsored by the Autism Alliance of Metrowest. We watched our boys run around and play and smile. The equipment was familiar to the boys from their OT sessions at school so they knew just how to use it. As a bonus, my friend and I got to actually talk to one another. A few weeks later, we attended another sensory open gym, again sponsored by the Autism Alliance, this time at a private OT clinic. Again, the boys were in heaven. Jumping into ball pits, climbing through the squeeze machine, swinging around on the therapeutic swings. And again, we got to talk. Mostly about how we wished there was something like this open near us all year round.
I wrote about our experience there in my blog. I talked about how welcoming it was. How one child kept telling everyone it was a leap year and reciting the other years when a leap year had occurred. How Howie made a new friend there who loved to spin around in the closed up swing as much as he did. How happy our kids were. And that no one there batted an eye if a kid was upset, or melting down, or jumping up and down, or making noises, or making eye contact or not. It was pure acceptance and love for our kids.
Such a happy face!
My husband Tim read it, saw Howie’s happy face in the pictures, and casually said “You should open a place like that.”
I’m not sure he actually meant it. But I started to cry. Because I knew we had to open a place like that.
The next night, I went out with a few friends for drinks. All autism moms. I told them what Tim said. They said we had to do it.
The next morning, I went for a walk with another friend. She’s been my friend since our oldest boys were in preschool together. I told her to talk me out of it. She talked me more into it. And handed me a book on how to start a non-profit in Massachusetts.
The more we talked to people: parents of kids with special needs, parents of kids without special needs, therapists, teachers, you name it. Not one person told us it was a bad idea. In fact, they all said we had to do this.
We met with a business consultant to organize our thoughts. We relied on people in our community who took their personal time to sit with us and tell us what we needed to do to make this work. We sent out a survey and wrote a business plan. We asked my cousin to design our website and our incredible logo. We filed with the state as a nonprofit, with the attorney general’s office as a public charity, and received our 501(c)3 status from the IRS faster than anyone said it would happen.
And so SenseAbility Gym, Incorporated was born.
So what are we? What are we trying to do? And why am I writing about this here?
SenseAbility Gym’s mission is to provide a parent-led sensory gym, giving children with special needs a safe, fun, indoor area where they can play and accommodate their sensory needs. This will be the first of its kind in the Metrowest area of Massachusetts. We’re modeling our gym after an incredibly successful sensory gym in Brooklyn, NY.
We believe in the fact that all children deserve access to the types of therapeutic equipment used in their schools and their private occupational therapy clinics and we believe that parents need to interact with their children to learn what helps their child “feel better” and have fun. There are four important components to our mission.
- Community: SenseAbility Gym wants its members to feel welcome, and part of the special needs community.
- Safe Sensory Play: SenseAbility Gym wants parents of children with special needs to feel there is a safe place to bring their children for fun, exercise and sensory support.
- Acceptance: SenseAbility Gym will have an environment that recognizes that all special needs children are different and that all learning styles, personalities, and abilities are welcome.
- Support: SenseAbility Gym will be a place where families of special needs children can go to meet other families who share the same struggles.
Through this blog, I’ve connected with special needs parents all over the country and the world. The one common statement that most parents say is “I feel so alone. My child is the only one that has these extra special needs. I have no one to turn to for support.”
My friend and I know how lucky we are to live where we do. From the moment that we knew Howie needed extra help, we had people to help us. Our pediatrician referred us to Early Intervention to get help for his sensory issues from an occupational therapist. When he entered preschool, he was surrounded by a loving, caring, knowledge group of teachers and support staff who knew before we did what Howie needed. And when he received his autism diagnosis, we were instantly supported by this team here in town to get him the services he needed. And through that, he made friends. And I made friends. And without that…I don’t like to think about it.
We see the gym as a place not only for our kids and kids like ours to accommodate their sensory needs, but also as a place to build their social skills and interact with other children like them. We see the gym as a place where moms and dads can interact with parents just like them.
As Howie told me the other night: “SenseAbility Gym is a place where kids can learn to get along.”
We see it as an another piece of the support team helping families know they are not alone.
I’m going to get numerical here for a moment. We know that as many as one in six children have sensory processing issues. That is from the SPD Foundation. The CDC reports that 5.4 million children between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed at some point in their lives with ADHD in 2007 and that number is rising. We know that 1 in 88 children – 1 in every 54 boys – are diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.
Taking a small seven mile radius around our town – the distance that people in our survey said they would travel for a service like ours – we know we have the potential of connecting with over 400 families who could use the gym. We’re guessing that people will travel farther and the actual number will be even higher.
That is over four hundred families that could finally connect and say “Me too.”
And this is where you come in.
I need your help. As a non-profit public charity, we are completely reliant on donations, grants, and our membership dues to stay open. None of us are taking a salary. All the money we raise goes right back into keeping the gym open and running: rent, electricity, equipment, furniture, insurance.
Our gym will be located in Hopedale, MA. There will be one large open space with equipment like therapy swings, a scooter board ramp, a ball pit, and tunnels, balancing equipment and a squeeze machine. We’ll have one quiet “sensory” room with crash pads and low lights and calming activities. And one classroom space for us to hold social skills or life skills classes, or to be used as a sensory-friendly homework room for children who need that to get their work done. Families will be able to purchase memberships to access open gym times with their children. In addition, we plan to offer sensory based group activities, and have the gym available for private therapists to use with children and their parent.
We would like to have our grand opening in January 2013. To do that, we need $38,000 to open our doors. That includes purchase of all the equipment and furniture for the gym.
We are actively pursuing local and national grants to help get us closer to that number.
I need you to tell people about us. Maybe you know a family who has a child with special needs in our area who could benefit from a membership at the gym. Maybe it’s your own family. Maybe you work for a company that is generous with community giving. Maybe you know children who need to raise money as a community service project and they would like to purchase a piece of equipment.
I need you – my friends and family – to help make this gym a reality. Not just for my kids or my friend’s kids.
But for mom who told me at our town’s Day In The Park that her daughter needs a place like this.
For the parents sitting in an Early Intervention family group right now wondering where they could find a safe place to meet once their kids turn three.
For the dad who is desperately looking for a way to connect with his autistic son, but can’t afford the play equipment his child needs.
Every dollar donated goes to the gym and those families.
It’s a balancing act
Last night, we held our first fundraiser in our town. The above is the speech I gave to the packed house that came for food, wine, chocolate, coffee and conversation. The room was filled with family and friends and strangers who are now friends. The most amazing part was it was not all people with special needs children. It was our community. It was teachers, parents, friends, therapists, and business leaders. They came because they wanted to support something that will benefit everyone.
We had a “sensory table” manned by my son Gerry and his friend. She’s an amazing young lady who, like my son, understands how much swings and fidgets and weighted blankets and headphones help their siblings “feel better”.
We raised a lot of money last night. We’re just under 40% of our goal.
But we still need you.
Clicking HERE takes you right to our PayPal donation page. We are a 501(c)3 organization and your donation is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Every dollar goes towards get our doors open.
I want to be able to come here in January and post pictures of our grand opening. I cannot wait to see the smiling faces on the kids that come through.
And their parents.
On behalf of my friend and every family that this will help, thank you for reading.
To read the news story about our fundraiser, click HERE.
To read more about our plans, click HERE.
To make our dream a reality, click HERE.