We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym is the best sensory gym for children on the spectrum and has affected families all around the world. Let’s meet two of our gym owners, Marissa and Lea, and how the We Rock the Spectrum franchise has impacted their lives:
1. Introduce yourselves!
We are Marissa and Lea, and we own We Rock the Spectrum in Jacksonville, FL!
2. How did you first hear about We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym?
We first heard about WRTS through a conversation from a former client of ours, who recently relocated from Miami, FL. They had told us about a “new gym” that was opening up where they were from, and they asked if we knew anything about one in our area!
3. What inspired you to open up your We Rock the Spectrum gym?
As professionals in the field, we were currently providing private ABA therapy through a local clinic in the Jacksonville area. We knew we loved ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) but knew we could incorporate our therapy in a sensory-enriching environment which would contrive more motivation from the children. You can learn at the table – BUT you can ALSO learn through play!
4. What are your backgrounds with the special needs community?
Lea and I met in our Graduate program at the University of North Florida, earning our Master’s Degree in Special Education. We continued to learn together in a behavioral clinic for children with Autism for our practicum experience, and became Lead Behavior Analysts at the same company. We would practice in the field and participate in local community outreach programs for children with special needs.
5. What has been the most inspiring moment at your gym?
Marissa: We have had MANY moments in the gym which have brought us to tears, but I think my favorite is the most recent interaction we have had with a new child. Dad had brought him in just for a few short minutes while his baby brother napped in the car with Mom. They were new to the area and read “Spectrum” on our sign, so he decided to pop in and see what we were about. His son, who was 9 years old, non-verbal with Autism, came in and felt right at home. I watched Dad nervously follow him around the gym, but as they became more comfortable, he was watching his son enjoy something in the new city they just moved to. I saw the son jump in the trampoline with two other peers, and the smiles on his face (and Dad’s face) said it all. He whipped out his cell phone and started to capture this moment of his son interacting with new friends. I gladly took a video of him on the zip line for the first time. It’s the small moments that I reflect on and know the importance of our WRTS in our community. Needless to say, little brother got a GOOD nap, because Big Brother didn’t want to leave!
Lea: We try very hard to offer unique events for ALL kids, and I believe my favorite event we have started has been Teen Night. We knew there was a population of children in our area that didn’t have the opportunities that the younger kids had, as most things are geared for little children. We offered an after-hours “Teen Night” for children 12 years old and up only. First night, we had two kids come. Those two kids had a blast and wanted to come next month. Next month, three kids came. The following month, we had five teens attend, and it has continued to slowly grow. We were so proud to see something so new and organic that was our idea blossom into an event that these kids now look forward too. We do fun social skills activities, play older games in the gym, and just give them a cool spot to hang out. The parents have made their own group of friends after meeting each other, and continue to socialize outside of the gym as well. It has been really cool to watch them grow as they go to junior high and high school and hear their awesome progress stories!
6. What is your favorite piece of equipment in the gym?
The zip line is ALWAYS a hit in the gym- and seems to be everyone’s favorite! I enjoy it, knowing that some children (including my own) come in and are intimidated by it. Watching them ride it the first time and conquer their fears is one of the best moments of the day! The versatility of it is great, interchanging the different attachments to work on different muscle groups is very beneficial. We recently got a new swing that incorporates LED lights – its SO COOL to turn off some lights when the sun goes down because you look like you are riding a UFO!
Our favorite calming piece of equipment are the reading cubbies in the back. These are lined with foam crash pads and boxed in to help the children relax and calm down. We have LED stars line the tops of the cubbies and attach some books to the side for a nice, calming activity after a hard few minutes of play!
7. How have you seen We Rock the Spectrum benefitting your community?
We believe WRTS has benefitted our community by building a community for our parents and children. We have seen so many families come in and meet new friends and network with each other for other resources in the area that can benefit their child. We are unlike any other program in the Jacksonville area, and we feel honored that our parents trust us to help build upon the skills their children have and can be a safe place for them to be who they are!
8. How has being a part of the We Rock family impacted your life so far?
We believe the opportunity to open our own WRTS location has broadened our mission to help as MANY people as we can. Working in a clinical setting, you are limited to a certain number of clients to make a daily impact. Our WRTS location has an open door, that can reach an endless number of children in our community to be accepted and have a safe space for them to learn and play. Being a part of something so big in the Jacksonville community is an honor, and we look forward to reaching more people as we grow!
9. What advice would you give to yourself when you first started the process of opening your WRTS?
Don’t be afraid to hear NO! Being young professionals in the field, we were denied multiple times before we opened. It was a very discouraging process, but we held strong to our vision and knew we could bring something really great to the community. We persevered and found the right funder to help bring our dream to life! Now, our WRTS in Jacksonville will be open for 3 years this month and we are showing ourselves and our own kids if you believe in something, do NOT give up and take “no” for an answer!