Celebrating Kids of All Abilities in Plymouth

Numerous resources abound in and around Plymouth for children with special needs.
Sarah Thorsen, right, works with Special Olympics athlete's cycling through some exercises at Mini-Hops Gymnastics.

The Plymouth community celebrates its kids. The superstars on the field, the academic powerhouses at state competitions and the award-winning artists are often rewarded for their achievements in the press. What is perhaps not touted enough is how this community also lifts up children of all abilities, including those with special needs. Joni Brown is a Plymouth resident and mother to 9 year-old Allie, who has Asperger’s and epilepsy. The Browns specifically moved to the area for what Plymouth and the surrounding communities had to offer. “I want to commend Plymouth for what they do for the kids who aren’t prefect,” Brown says. “It was refreshing to come from a small town and move to a bigger city. It’s so nice to have the levies getting passed and support from the community.” Allie currently attends the Communication Interaction Program (CIP) that serves students with neurobiological disorders. This program is run by Intermediate District 287, a provider of specialized services which comprises 12 member schools, including Robbinsdale, Wayzata, Osseo and Hopkins. Its building and programs are specifically geared towards providing an educational environment appropriate for students with complex needs such as Allie. Outside of the classroom, Brown praises local resource Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park. “It’s great for sensory-seeking kiddos who need to burn off some energy,” she says. Another resource for physical activities for kids and adults with special needs is Mini-Hops Gymnastics. It offers both artistic and rhythmic gymnastics through Special Olympics Minnesota for athletes six years old and up. “We’ve been doing this for a long time,” says executive director Michaela Chelberg. “We have athletes who’ve been with us for 20 years.” The fee to become a member is less than $40, and the uniforms and classes are included. Chelberg explained that demand beyond their Saturday afternoon Special Olympics classes has been high. “We’ve wanted to start more of a youth program because we see parents wanting to mainstream and that can be difficult,” she says. The center also offers ongoing private lessons for people with special needs. If other sports are of interest, seventh through twelfth grade students in the Wayzata or Minnetonka school districts have options in adaptive soccer, floor hockey, softball and bowling through the Minnesota State High School League. Nancy Icopini, adapted athletics coordinator at Wayzata High School, helped spearhead this initiative about 15 years ago, according to Barb Beise, assistant to the director of athletics and activities at Wayzata Public School. “Nancy really helped with the recruitment of families” in building the program, Beise saysin, adding, “Offering these opportunities for kids is important. I love going to the games because they are pure; they’re about teamwork, athletics and fun, which is what these sports should be about for all kids,” she says. Another option serving the Plymouth area is Hammer, a 90-year-old nonprofit for individuals with special needs. The trained staff works with families both in its own residences and in existing families’ homes to help in building daily life skills among many other areas. “It’s all about the individual we serve and making it as customized as possible,” explains program director Tim Janssen. For the younger set, Wayzata Community Education offers a wide variety of opportunities. Director Bob Wittman says, “Our philosophy in elementary programs is an integrated approach. There is very little designated programming, if any. The staff does a great job recognizing abilities and gifts. We focus on those gifts and share with each other.” Something Janssen mentioned about Hammer could be said for how Plymouth supports all of its children: “People are living incredible lives,” he says. “Our focus is to highlight the successes of these individuals, no matter how large or small.”