EDMOND, Okla. (KFOR) – COVID-19 closed many Oklahoma businesses and nearly closed a small gym in Edmond, designed for special needs children.
But knowing its value to so many special needs children and to their parents, its owners went to great lengths to keep their doors open, while also keeping those priceless smiles on all the kids’ faces, including six-year-old Chris Perkins.
“He’s severely autistic, non-verbal, and he does 32 hours a week of therapy to try to learn this world that’s very confusing for him,” Stephanie Perkins said, describing her son, Chris. “It has completely changed my life.”
But when inside We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym in Edmond, Chris shines!
“Chris doesn’t have friends. When he comes here, he’s with other special needs kids, and they just get each other. And it just gives them an outlet to go to and to look around and to realize that there are other kids just like them,” Stephanie said.
Parents describe the gym as a treasure, but it hasn’t been easy to keep it open.
Gym owners Gwen Batchelor and her husband Scott scrape together just enough money each month to pay rent, relying on donations, faith and the two jobs Scott works, while Gwen runs the gym seven days a week.
“She has not taken a paycheck since they opened this two years ago. She’s here all day, every day. She doesn’t have any employees, she does it all herself because she knows how important this place is, and what it means to our children,” Stephanie said.
And that’s why Stephanie nominated Gwen for a Pay It 4ward award from First Fidelity Bank, surprising Gwen at the gym with $400.
“To give Chris a place to come, and to give moms a much-needed outlet and support group, I nominated you for Pay It 4Ward. So, on behalf of First Fidelity and Channel 4, we want to present you with $400 to do something for yourself, because you are the most selfless person I have ever met,” Stephanie said with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you so much for blessing us with this. We appreciate it. Thank you! Oh wow, thank you so much, that’s so sweet of you,” Gwen said, hugging Stephanie.
Gwen has five kids of her own, including 13-year-old Isabel who helps around the gym, and three-year-old Olivia, born with Down syndrome.
“She has been an absolute joy from the very beginning, an absolute joy,” Gwen said, beaming. “We want it to be a place that she can have one day, hopefully, own and run, and that the kids that she’s growing up here with can work alongside her. So, that is our whole vision so that she’ll have this when we’re gone,” she said.
Paying rent is their biggest hurdle, but the very customers she serves are the ones stepping up to serve Gwen.
“We have this amazing community that has bought us groceries, gifted our kids clothes, you know, I mean, it’s been insane, bought toys for the gym. During COVID, a family would show up with a check that we never, ever imagined, just to put toward rent,” Gwen said.
Be sure to get fresh headlines delivered to your inbox weekday mornings! You can also sign-up for breaking email alerts! KFOR.com/Newsletters
As hard as they work to keep the gym open, it isn’t Gwen family’s only dream.
They’ve also created a support group for parents of special needs children, along with a nonprofit called “Beyond the Spectrum” to, in part, help families bogged down by ever-present medical bills, to pay for therapy, summer camp and social skills classes.
And, in the next few years, Gwen’s family hopes to open a special needs community center for all ages.
“It’s a passion!” she said.
We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym is open seven days a week and is located in Edmond near 33rd and Broadway. They offer playtime and private birthday parties for special needs and neurotypical children alike.
Nominate someone for Pay it 4Ward!
Pay It 4Ward is a program through which KFOR-TV viewers can help someone they know who could use extra cash immediately.
Each week someone will receive $400 cash because one of their friends or co-workers wants to “Pay It 4Ward.”
When nominating, make sure to include your name, daytime phone number, who you nominate and why. Please follow all the criteria when nominating.
Pay It 4Ward is sponsored by First Fidelity Bank.