1. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your gym.
We are Marissa Chunn and Lea Wells, owners of We Rock the Spectrum – Jacksonville! We have been classmates, friends, co-workers, and became business partners on December 17th, 2016 when we opened our doors to the first We Rock gym in North Florida. Our facility is 7200 square feet that includes a spacious gym area that holds a 50 ft. zip line, large sensory swing apparatus, toddler area, and calming corner, as well as a picnic area and parent resource corner in the front lobby. We have two separated rooms in the back, one to hold private events such as birthday parties, classes, and seminars and the other to utilize for private therapy purposes.
2. How did you first learn about We Rock the Spectrum?
We had been looking in to options on how to grow our professional careers outside of a clinic setting and a client we had at the time mentioned the gym opening in Miami, FL. We opened up the web page and immediately knew we could impact so many families with the opportunities available. Our kid-friendly personalities, similar career goals, and teamwork style helped us make the decision to become business partners and tackle the mission together!
3. What is your professional background?
We both earned our master degrees in special education from the University of North Florida in 2013. Beyond our degrees, we earned our practicum experience working in a private behavioral clinic as Behavior Therapists. We studied together and worked hard, and in the spring of 2014 became board certified behavior analysts. We continue to supervise and provided 1:1 ABA therapy to clients in combination with running our We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gym in Jacksonville.
4. What are three words that describe you?
Marissa: Patient, Patriotic, and Goal-Oriented.
Lea: Outgoing, Understanding, Confident
5. What inspired you to open a We Rock the Spectrum gym?
Marissa: The We Rock motto “Finally, a place you never have to say I’m sorry”. While taking my own daughter to gymnastics class, a young girl on the spectrum walked in to the lobby. She approached my husband and was touching the top of his head (He had textured gel in his hair) and smiling at him. Her grandmother rushed over, took her by the arm and said “No, no.” and brought her across the room. That didn’t stop her! She approached him two other times, and the third time the young girl’s grandmother looked at us and said “I am so sorry” and took her granddaughter outside for the remainder of the class. That was the moment I knew our community needed a place where ALL kids can be themselves, no explanations or apologies needed. It sealed the decision I needed to bring a We Rock to my community!
Lea: As a professional in the field I noticed a void in the community for our kids with special needs. There were times when my clients would tell me they didn’t know where to take their kids, that they were tired sitting at home, and that their child had a difficult time at other establishments. After hearing too many stories with unhappy endings for my families, I decided to look for something more. Marissa approached me with “We Rock the Spectrum” and I just knew this is what I was meant to do and bring to all the special needs families here in Jacksonville.
6. How have you seen We Rock the Spectrum benefiting your community?
Marissa: From the minute we opened our doors to the Jacksonville community, ALL families have been gracious with their words about this space. We have numerous families come in on a regular basis, one family sharing with us “Everything is so relaxed and fun. I just feel like I am at home when I am here.” As educators, we would see progress in students after working on a specific goal for duration of time. At our “We Rock” gym, we have seen children try a see-saw for the first time, initiate communication for their favorite zip-line swing, take the hand of another child with a smile to engage in their first social interactions. The reactions of their parents, who are witnessing these moments with us are priceless.
Lea: Since opening our doors in December, I have seen the impact on our community. Our special needs moms are rallying with his to provide a space for our kids to play. We recently had an Easter event in which 3 of the families told me “We have been trying for years to get pictures with the bunny and finally here at the gym, where my kid is comfortable, did it actually happen.” Knowing that these families struggle with things that others take for granted and seeing the positive outcome has made it an unbelievable experience.
7. What advice would you give someone who wanted to become a franchisee?
Marissa: NEVER GIVE UP! We personally entered this venture as educators, not business owners. The process of opening your own We Rock will have highs and lows. Take the lows as learning experiences and grow from them! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and lean on your “We Rock” family for advice and troubleshooting. Once your grand opening day arrives, it will be the most eye-opening and rewarding experience to see your finished product and the smiling faces that walk through your front door.
Lea: Everything is possible! This has been an eye-opening experience from start to finish. Just days before our grand opening we were still struggling with everything and did not think we would make it. We cried, drank more coffee and plowed on. I truly believe it was meant to be and it all came together in the end. Our “We Rock” family is so supportive and we couldn’t have do it without them.
8. How has being a part of the We Rock the Spectrum family impacted your life thus far?
Being a part of a family-style owner’s community has been invaluable to our process of opening our gym. Each individual owner, and their gym, is unique and that’s what makes each “We Rock” special and successful. They have welcomed questions to us new owners (no matter how many times it has been asked!) and have provided feedback in a non-judgmental manner. My favorite part about being a current owner is now the sharing of ideas on what we can provide in our gyms, creative activities, and what has worked/hasn’t worked in the past for veteran owners. Each person has reached out with open arms to make us feel like a part of a “greater team”.