We get asked a lot about why we opened SenseAbility Gym and how.
This is our story.
Written by Tina Perriello and Alysia Butler, co-owners of SenseAbility Gym.
We met when our kids were in preschool together in Hopedale at the Bright Beginnings Center. Our kids, Henry and Anthony, are both diagnosed with autism and were part of the subseparate classroom program at the school. We became friends and talked a lot about trying to find a place where we could have a play date where our kids could play together (or separately) and where we could also talk to each other. Sometimes, traditional play areas like playgrounds and trampoline parks are too overwhelming for kids on the autism spectrum, and even our own houses were hard to manage sometimes.
We came upon a local occupational therapy clinic that opened up to the public once a month in the winter for “open gym” play. Families could come and pay by the visit so the kids could play on equipment that was familiar to them through their own therapies. We took our kids to an open gym time and not only did they love it, but we did too. It was the first time that we were able to talk to each other while our kids played freely and judgement free. When we left, we knew we had to open a place like that that had access for families all year long.
Thanks to the help of friends, family and an incredibly supportive community, we created SenseAbility Gym. We incorporated as a nonprofit since we knew we were filling a need in our community that didn’t exist, not just in the Hopedale area but in all of Massachusetts. Through fundraisers, grants and corporate donations, we opened our doors to the public in February 2013.
Since that day we’ve welcomed in over 700 different families through the doors of SenseAbility Gym. We offer the types of classes for children that didn’t exist before. We have families using our space for their child’s birthday party, saying it’s the first time they’ve been able to have a party for their child. We have created a space for children of all abilities to play together in that safe, judgement free place that we craved for our own children when they were young. We have families that exchange emails and phone numbers after they’ve met at SenseAbility, making plans to meet up the next time.
There’s a cs lewis quote that says “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.“ That’s exactly what families feel when they come through our doors – they’ve found a place where their family is accepted, understood,and welcomed.
What started out as a selfish need for us to find a space for our own kids has developed into so much more for our community. We are grateful for every family who has walked through our doors and for everyone who has supported us along the way.