The First International Location for the Kid’s Gym Franchise
On December 22nd, 2016, We Rock the Spectrum opened its first international location in Ara Damansara, Malaysia. This was the first gym to open outside of the continental United States. CEO and Founder, Dina Kimmel, attended the grand opening with her family. Rahmah Mahmood, Nori Abdullah, and Hana Jamaluddin, the owners of We Rock the Spectrum – Malaysia, were also in attendance along with the Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin and the Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
We Rock the Spectrum’s journey to Malaysia was filled with countless blessings and meant-to-be moments. Through a series of serendipitous events, We Rock the Spectrum – Ara Damansara took the brand Dina Kimmel built seven years prior — and her mission — global.
Greetings from Malaysia! The grand opening of We Rock the Spectrum – Ara Damansara was an amazing success! It was everything we had hoped for and more. Malaysia is the first stop of our international expansion, but it certainly won't be our last! #WRTSWorldwide <3
Posted by We Rock the Spectrum – Official Headquarters on Thursday, December 22, 2016
It started in the summer of 2015, when Khairy Jamaluddin attended the Special Olympics in Los Angeles, California with his wife and three boys. During their downtime, he was looking for a place to take his children to play nearby. That’s when a simple Google search led him to find an opportunity for all of Malaysia, and he first learned of We Rock the Spectrum.
One of his three sons, Timor, is on the autism spectrum. As any parent of a child with special needs knows, it can be very difficult to find an environment that understands and accepts your child while also providing a place that your neurotypical children find entertaining and exciting as well. For Khairy and many other parents of children with special needs, We Rock the Spectrum did just that.
He took two of his boys, Jibreil and Timor, to the gym in Woodland Hills, California where they all fell in love. Khairy then returned to his wife Nori to tell her about his new discovery of a gym that caters to children of all abilities.
“It would be really, really cool if we had this back home in Malaysia,” he said.
Flash forward to a little more than a year and a half later, and thanks to the work of three amazing women, Rahmah Mahmood, Nori Abdullah, and Hana Jamaluddin, We Rock the Spectrum came to the wonderful country of Malaysia.
Thank you Malaysia! Here are some photos from the grand opening of We Rock the Spectrum – Ara Damansara! Thank you to…
The doors opened to the first We Rock the Spectrum international location on December 22nd, and families all over Malaysia received a holiday gift that day. The first sensory gym in Ara Damansara became available to children of all abilities, and parents of special needs children in Malaysia could say, “Finally, a place where you never have to say I’m sorry.”
“The first thing I noticed,” CEO Kimmel says of her trip to Malaysia, “is just how much the families here need this.”
Dina has understood the need for an inclusive environment for quite some time. She started the first We Rock inside of her bedroom back in 2009. Her son Gabriel had been diagnosed with ASD and needed the stimulation he was receiving at the Occupational Therapist more regularly. Dina installed the sensory equipment in her home, and soon Gabriel was thriving. Furthermore, his sister Sophia and her friends were enjoying the equipment, too. That’s when Dina sprung into action.
“I told my husband ‘I’m starting an inclusive kid’s gym,'” she reminisces, “and he said ‘what do you know about running a kid’s gym?’ and I told him, ‘I know that’s what God put me on this earth to do.”
Seven years later, Dina brought Gabriel, Sophia, and her husband, Tim, with her to Ara Damansara to see what they had once created in the Kimmel home open in Malaysia. Halfway across the world, her children got to play on the equipment they grew up with, in the environment their mother has spread globally.
“Having my family here means everything,” Dina says, “to know that my son can travel across the world and be at home in a We Rock emphasizes why our mission is so important. Our children need love and security, and We Rock the Spectrum is so grateful to Rahmah, Nori, and Han, and Khairy for believing in our mission and bringing it to their country.”
Below is Khairy’s full speech from the Grand Opening. Watch and read the transcript below and hear his passionate, personal, and beautiful message.
Below is a video of the federal Minister for Youth and Sports in Malaysia, Mr. Khairy Jamaluddin. Khairy's speech at the Grand Opening of We Rock the Spectrum – Ara Damansara was personal, passionate, and absolutely beautiful. We encourage everyone to watch below, share Khairy's message, and continue to raise awareness to our mission.
Posted by We Rock the Spectrum – Official Headquarters on Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, 5th prime minister of Malaysia, patron of the Malaysia Olympics association, Tim, Dina, Sophia, Gabriel, thank you for being here with us all the way from the United States.
Ladies and gentleman, in the summer of 2015 last year, my family and I went to Los Angeles. We were all there — apart from my eldest sister — we were all there, not just for a vacation, but we were all there to attend the Special Olympics in Los Angeles. My aunt, Rahmah, earlier spoke about coincidences, and there are many, many coincidences that led us to where we are today.
We went to the Special Olympics because I was very interested in seeing our Malaysian athletes compete at the summer Special Olympics and that began because I lent my support to one of the programs that is run under the Special Olympics which is unified soccer, or unified futbol, where they have kids with intellectual disabilities play on the same team as neurotypical kids. So it was not just sports which separate able bodied athletes and non abled bodied athletes, but it is a way of bringing people together on the same team, on the same field, so that they could empathize with one another. So that kids that were neurotypical, would understand what it was like to play futbol, or soccer, with kids with intellectual disabilities. So we were there for the Special Olympics and I brought my kids along, Jibreil and Timor — Raif, my youngest, was too small then. And to keep them occupied, I was of course Googling all the different kid attractions in Los Angeles — where I could bring them, where I could spend a few hours and make sure they were occupied — and we found this place called Sky High Trampoline Park in Woodland Hills. So we went there once, and I noticed there were a lot of other things around there. So I Googled again, Woodland Hills area, and I found this gym called We Rock The Spectrum. So I went to the Woodland Hills branch, that was the first one that I went to. It was just me and the boys, Nori wasn’t there. I drove myself and we got there, and I was struck by how wonderful that gym was.
A lot has been said about the We Rock gyms and as a father of three boys, and two of them were with me that day — Jibreil who is neurotypical, Timor is on the autistic spectrum — I wanted something where they would both feel happy. Not just something for Timor, not just something for Jibreil. But something for both of them, and something that I would feel comfortable, something where I wouldn’t have to go to another parent and say I’m sorry if Timor or Jibreil did something wrong, or invaded the space of another child, and something that was very very functional. Functional in the sense that yes, they were having fun, but they were having fun and also they were doing their therapy at the same time. And after that visit, I went back and saw my wife Nori at the hotel and I said, “Look I came across this wonderful, wonderful thing. This We Rock The Spectrum, this gym, which was built and designed for all kids, but especially kids with sensory, therapy needs, autistic kids, kids on the spectrum.” I said “You really have to check this out because it would be really, really cool if we had this back home in Malaysia.”
So a couple days later we went to the Santa Monica branch, which wasn’t as big as the Woodland Hills branch, but we went there and you know they had the rope line, they had all the 10 different special equipment that is synonymous and trademarked to We Rock The Spectrum and Nori, thought it was a great idea as well. And at the Santa Monica one, which was a bit different than the Woodland Hills, maybe because of the time we were there, we saw freelance therapists coming in to do occupational therapy with kids, at that gym with the equipment that they had there. So I told my wife, this is really something that we ought to do. I called We Rock the Spectrum — I spoke to Tina I remember. I think Tina is Dina’s gatekeeper, so she’s very insistent on quality control. She wanted to know who I was, where I came from, whether I was for real. So I said I was from Malaysia and we wanted the franchise back here. So she asked me for a lot of documentation, non-disclosure agreements. That’s the point at which my stamina ran out. That’s when we turned over to our Aunt Rahmah, who we know is very, very insistent in getting something done. So we thought if there was anyone who had the stamina to go through all the documentation, knock on the doors, get to see Dina, it would be her. And I am happy that she agreed to take this up — with Bruce of course — and of course the rest is history. Today we are here in Malaysia, with We Rock The Spectrum.
And happy coincidences don’t just end there. I mean, you know, this is not just a simple business transaction or bringing a gym here, a franchise here, and running it as a business. You have to have heart in this endeavor; you have to believe in this endeavor. I don’t think that Dina would have opened the first We Rock The Spectrum gym outside of the United States just anywhere and just with anybody. I think they have to be the right people behind this, the right partners who believe in this, and the right partners who believe in where we want to take this.
And the right partners which bring other coincidences as well. I mean this is very, very uncanny, but Dina’s eldest son, his name is Gabriel. Gabriel as you know is the westernized name of Jibreil, the name of my eldest son. And get this, Gabriel’s best friend’s name is Timor. And Timor is my second son. So, you know, the stars couldn’t have aligned better for this. This was truly, truly written in the stars and I think it is wonderful that we decided to go ahead with this.
Ladies and gentleman, I am happy that we did this and I am happy that Auntie Rahmah, my sister, Hannah and Nori, really went and ran ahead with this because at some point, I just retreated as a casual observer. I asked them, I said “How is it going?” They said “It’s going well.” They didn’t bother me for anything. Nori came to me very very early on and said can we use some of our some of our savings to build this gym. Soon, some of our savings became most of our savings; soon it became all of our savings. But I said”OK”. I said “OK” because it is something that we believe strongly in and before I knew it, the gym was ready and we found a wonderful place — wonderful place in Evolve Mall — this is the first time I’m here. I don’t think I would have known about this mall if it wasn’t for us opening up here, but it gives me very, very good vibe — open, bright, airy — and I think we’re happy to find a home here in the Evolve Mall.
And I think this has come at a really, really good time in Malaysia as well because, as mentioned earlier, awareness as far as autism is concerned, of course its not something new, but again when we talk about the stars aligning, I think we’re opening up this gym at the right time.
The government is much, much more aware — acutely aware — about the need to make sure that there’s better integration at our public schools for kids with special needs and also neurotypical kids. We recently, in cabinet, in the government, discussed the need to invest more in earlier intervention, in public schools, so that everybody has access to early intervention for autistic kids.
Under the patronage of our first lady, Rosmah Mansor, we have also set up a center for autistic kids and the representatives are here with us today. Thank you for being with us because we want to create more centers, more intervention centers which will allow for early intervention, especially for parents who do not have access to private therapy, who don’t have access to private OT sessions, who don’t have access to early intervention, which is very, very expensive.
And last year as well, we received a great, tremendous boost in terms of awareness. Most of you, from Malaysia of course, know this, but last year, there was a wonderful, wonderful movie that was produced. Sorry, this year, it was a wonderful movie that was produced called Redda and Tim Komuda, the director is here with us. Thank you for being here with us. About autism, they won a prize recently, international film festival. It is a wonderful movie about acceptance, about love, and about awareness of autism.
So this has come at a really, really fantastic time, in terms of awareness, in terms of encouraging, first of all, a lot of Malaysian parents to accept and to move on. I can tell you that as a minister, I don’t speak. I’m not speaking today as a minister, but rather as a father to a son who is on the autistic spectrum. My personal experience, the most difficult thing, is not really the therapy part of it, but the most difficult thing for me was acceptance. Being able to accept and being able to move on. And that was the part which was extremely difficult for me, because I had to accept that he was different, and I had to accept that I had to make sure that our lives were directed towards allowing for him to fulfill his potential.
And that came with so many questions because when Timor was diagnosed, about 3 years old, being on the spectrum, then a lot of things made sense to me. Lack of eye contact, the fact that he wasn’t verbal in the way that his brother was, the fact that he was different in terms of sensory stimulation. It all made sense to me and it allowed me to understand how we can fulfill his potential. It allowed me to wonder about how I can reach out to him so that I can make myself clearer so he can understand me, and I can understand him. And it was all about accepting the fact that he is uniquely him and he has his own unique attributes and identity and that allowed me to allow to appreciate and understand his development as a child.
And I think part of it also is about trying to make sure that we understand where they are coming from. Now one thing about sensory stimulation is kids who are on the spectrum often have a very difficult time and different experience in processing sensory stimulation. They look at a particular situation, they look at noise, they hear sounds, they look at images, and it is very different from how we process things and they have their own coping mechanisms. Sometimes they flail their arms, sometimes they run around. People who are involved with occupational therapy and on the spectrum, they understand this. Sometimes they say things again and again and again. Timor can go on and on, he can say a word for infinity and this is just the way they handle stress. And this is the same with all of us. Even neurotypical people have stress, even we have to handle. You know, I give speeches everyday, but no matter what speech I give, I go through my own stimming and flailing of arms as well. It’s just that I don’t do it in front of you. I do it inside the quiet confines of my car. I do it as well. They do it as well. So it’s just them being human. It’s nothing strange, it’s nothing different. They’re just trying to process the world around them.
So, today, I am happy because one of the great things about WRTS, it allows for that sensory stimulation to take place in a safe environment. An environment that is fun, that is bright, and best of all, an environment where they could be with other kids as well. Where Jibreil can come, Raif can come, and be with their brother Timor and they can all have fun. And they can do occupational therapy here, they can spend time here, parents can go shopping or eat at the food court right next door to the gym, and everyone has a great day here.
So I’m very, very proud and I’d just like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you to Dina for believing in Malaysia. I was told — I don’t know if this is true or not — that this is your first overseas international trip outside of the United States. I’m so happy that its here in Malaysia. Thank you for trusting us with your wonderful, wonderful gym and we’ll look after it very well because you’ve started this wonderful journey and we hope that this journey can continue around the world with Malaysia as its first stop.
Thank you to Auntie Rahmah and Bruce. They’ve really been the energy behind all of this. You know, Auntie Rahmaf because Saif had certain learning difficulties when she was younger and she empathized very quickly with what we were trying to do so it is very, very important to work together with people who are family, who you love, but also people who understand what we’re trying to do here. My sister Hannah, of course, she has also been at the forefront of this. My niece, Aisha, she’s a special needs child as well, but she’s a special needs child who really breaks the glass ceiling every time. All the way. You know, she’s as normal as normal can be. And to Nori, thank you very much for continuing this, for taking this idea that I just mentioned to you and running with it and making it a reality.
I’d just like to end by saying, please continue to talk about this, whether its through movies, whether it’s through government programs, whether it’s through private initiatives, whether it’s through the whole ecosystem that is here today. So many of you are part of our journey, our personal journey. I see friends and colleagues who have come from Timor or Puma’s experience with occupational therapy. Mr. Lan is here, you know we’ve been with him for so many years. Thank you. To more recent friends who has been with us at Timor’s oasis place and green apple, where he goes horse riding. Thank you so much for being a part of this journey. Because what we’re doing here, we are not running a business. We’re creating an ecosystem. We’re creating an ecosystem for special kids and their families. So that wherever you go in Malaysia, they’re able to ride horses, they are able to go to intervention centers which are affordable, they are able to come to gyms, are able to watch movies which celebrate their lives, and this is really what we want because we want awareness. The first thing that you really need to get out there is awareness so that parents believe they are not alone. And parents believe that they have the opportunity and access to intervention so that their kids can fulfill their potential.
And lastly, we all know that it is very expensive, so one of my next hopes for We Rock the Spectrum, is I hope this is not the first and only gym in Malaysia. I hope that Dina and of course the three lady partners who own We Rock The Spectrum Malaysia, will continue to expand — not with my savings of course — to other parts of Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia.
This is a story that we cannot be selfish about and keep to ourselves. This is a story which needs to be told across the world and to make it more accessible, what I want to do after this — and I mentioned this to my sister Hannah, Nori and also to Auntie Rahmah — I want to also create a fund where we are able to fund kids who may not be able to afford the time at We Rock The Spectrum, so that we can sponsor them to have their occupational therapy and to play here as well.
So we will be working on that, that is the next challenge that I got, to raise some money and to knock on doors and to twist the arms of wealthy friends and colleagues so that they can contribute funds so that kids can go, not just kids from families that can afford it, but all kids can come to this facilities and enjoy this wonderful, wonderful space that we call We Rock The Spectrum here in Malaysia. So thank you once again and remember, you’re not alone. If you’re a parent with a child who’s on the spectrum, you are not alone. There are very many of us out there and this is something that we are all in it together, so thank you very much.