Episode 4: Rec2Connect

Join your host, Mara Layne, as she discovers what ADA Cleveland member organization, Rec2Connect, has to offer the disabled population of Northeast Ohio. 

This episode features special guest, Jen Knott, Executive Director of Rec2Connect

To discover more about Rec2Connect and their programs, visit https://rec2connect.org/

Below you’ll find an Audio only version, Video with captions and ASL interpretation, and a full transcript. (Have ideas of how we can make our podcast even more accessible? Let us know! Send us an email to: adaincle@gmail.com)


Also, available on Anchor



Mara Layne 0:00

Disability in the LAND: Episode Four, Rec2Connect. Hello, and welcome to Disability in the LAND, the monthly podcast from ADA Cleveland. I’m your host, Mara Layne. Joining us here today is Jen Knott, Executive Director and Founder of Rec2Connect. Rec2Connect was founded in 2009 and connects people with special needs to community recreation, wellness, and lifetime leisure skills, through innovative recreation therapy programming. The staff at Rec2Connect are dedicated to promoting access to recreation and increasing community inclusion for people with special needs and their families to enhance their quality of life. Thank you for joining us today, Jen! Can you please introduce yourself to our listeners including your role and its function?

Jen Knott 0:46

Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be on and to be able to share more

about Rec2Connect and ADA Cleveland as well. So as Mara said, I’m Jen Knott. I’m the Executive Director and Founder of Rec2Connect. Graduate of Kent State University and a certified Recreation or Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. Or in other words, a Recreation Therapist. I wear many, many hats at Rec2Connect and continue to add more daily. So today I get to add podcaster to that role, which is awesome. But I do I manage and oversee all of the operations of the organization, including organizational structure, budgeting, grant writing, programming, staffing, training, staff development, fundraising, donor stewardship, marketing,

relationship building in the community, and then also pursuing new opportunities for growth and service to people with disabilities through Rec2Connect.

Mara Layne 1:42

Wow. It sounds like you do wear a lot of hats. And you know what? I’m also a proud graduate of Kent State University.

Jen Knott 1:49

That’s awesome.

Mara Layne 1:50

Tell us more about your background. How did you begin doing the work that you do?

Jen Knott 1:55

So, in growing up, I had a cousin who had autism and saw the struggles that my aunt and uncle experienced on a daily basis, trying to find quality services for him within the community. And a lot of times it ended up being them not finding those services. And then kind of leading throughout high school and grade school, we had a lot of volunteer opportunities that I was able to engage with people with disabilities in different recreation settings. And then when deciding what I wanted to major in in college, I thought pre-med was going to be my way to go. I loved working with children. I love the clinical aspect of potentially working in a hospital. And so that kind of is where I thought I should belong. Then quickly realized that was not for me, but I still kind of wanted to follow along with working with kids. And my mom saw an article in “The Kent Stater,” which was like the newspaper there, about recreation therapy and I played soccer at Kent and had played sports all my life, so it kind of combined that love of sport, also with that clinical need that I wanted to fulfill as well. So that kind of was what led me into recreation therapy. And I fell in love with it from day one and couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. And now, 22 years later, here’s where it led me.

Mara Layne 3:14

So, I’ll be honest, Jen. I don’t know what recreation therapy is. Can you give me a brief explanation?

Jen Knott 3:20

Absolutely. So, I mean, I feel like that is common. Most people, especially in Ohio, do not know what recreation therapy is. In other states, recreation therapy is part of everyday life. They’re in parks and rec departments, we’re in hospitals. You know, we are a huge part of helping, especially in the community, people with disabilities access community recreation. And in Ohio, unfortunately, we’re just, we’re behind in that realm. So, recreation therapy is something where we look at the individual as a whole. We can work in a variety of settings. So we could work with people with disabilities, we could work in corrections, we could work in a psychiatric hospital, we could work with older adults, but trying to find a way to use leisure as the medium

and recreation as our medium for service delivery, to accomplish goals, whether it be physical goals, whether it be social goals, whether it be just leisure-related goals, and then help individuals achieve that. So it can combine, you know, from somebody who may have had an accident or an injury, if they had recreation participation prior to that accident or injury, how do we then help them get to a place where they can experience that? Maybe in a different way, in an adapted way, but still have access to recreation as they go forward. And then work on those skills and those goals, you know, throughout that process.

Mara Layne 4:40

Thank you so much for that explanation. It makes so much sense to me and I’m constantly blown away about the resources that are available to Clevelanders with disabilities. Are people with disabilities your main audience, or can anybody participate in your programming?

Jen Knott 4:55

So people with disabilities are our main audience. Any, any disability. If it’s a physical disability, developmental, if they have cognitive needs, if they have psychological needs, or maybe even undiagnosed with something. But the other programming that is in the community may not be the best fit for them and they’re kind of looking for a different approach of how to engage in recreation. Two-sided answer. Yes, primarily for people with disabilities, but we don’t turn anyone away.

Mara Layne 5:24

It sounds like you have two sides, almost, of your programming, both physical and social. Do you feel like your participants gain more from the exercise or the socialization at Rec2Connect?

Jen Knott 5:38

I think it’s a little bit of both. From a physical standpoint, I feel like there are so many benefits that we can work on, whether its range of motion, whether it’s strengthening, motor planning skills, and being active as well. So finding an active, healthy leisure lifestyle that promotes that for our participants. And it allows them to move their bodies in ways that they may not be able to do in other parts of their lives. So I think the physical aspect is huge for what we do, for especially lifelong health promotion standpoint. But then I also think the socialization that comes from our group programs and our family events that provides that sense of connection and community is huge. The psychological benefits from the movement, also coupled with the connection to others in the community help foster a positive experience in recreation, it helps get your endorphins flowing, like it just all around is a feel-good moment that makes people want to continue to come back for more. And I think I love that we can help families connect with each other, help siblings meet other siblings, help people with disabilities grow and cultivate their friendships with peers in their community. And so, I think that there’s, there’s, there’s both. I don’t know that one is better than the other, because I think both are just as valuable as the other.

Mara Layne 6:51

Wow, and how many individuals and families are you helping connect right now?

Jen Knott 6:57

Um, so we have around 200 individuals weekly in our programs. We have special events that we do, like our family events that we go out into the community and have pool parties, or we go to Guardians games, or our next one coming up is an ice skating party. You know, so that adds to the amount of individuals that we see on a monthly basis, but weekly in either one-on-one or group programming, we’re around 200 on a weekly basis.

Mara Layne 7:21

Speaking of special events, you’re the founder of Rec2Connect, and you’ve obviously seen the evolution of your organization from start to the present. In your opinion, what has Rec2Connect done that has made the most impact on your community?

Jen Knott 7:37

I think the most that we’ve done has been able to expand recreation opportunities in Northeast Ohio for people with disabilities. I know when I started Rec2Connect in 2009 and even thinking back to when my cousin was growing up, there really were very limited options for, “Where do I go to learn how to swim? Where do I go to play soccer? Where do I go, you know, to meet other families and do these things?” So I think we’ve really expanded our reach by offering programming in Beachwood, Seven Hills, Berea, North Olmsted and Akron, to kind of encompass all surrounding areas in Northeast Ohio. And then we continue to identify the barriers

that people with disabilities and their families are facing and experiencing to help work to find solutions to make recreation, their recreation involvement, more accessible and more inclusive.

Mara Layne 8:25

It sounds like you have something for everybody. Are there specific programs going on right now that ADA Cleveland community members can join in on?

Jen Knott 8:33

We do. So weekly we have programs that are running all year round. We don’t necessarily, you know, start and stop during certain times. But we have aquatic therapy. We have adapted aquatics. We have our Razorsharks USA Swim Team that practices three times a week and then they also compete in USA Swim Meets throughout the year and that’s like a fully inclusive environment as well. So I mean we’re competing not just, you know, in our own swim meets with our own participants; we’re competing with all other community members of all ages from, you know, ages seven all the way through adulthood. We have a master swim team. That’s for individuals ages 18 and up. And with that swim team our coaches actually swim with them too. So we, they do relays together. They compete against each other, so that, that is happening on a monthly basis. Our Hike Club, they meet in the Metroparks and hike together once a week. We have our Fit Friends. We have Cardio Drumming. We have a class called Pedal Power that we just started that’s a spin class. We have a Bike Connect program, where we teach children and adults how to ride bikes. And then we have family recreation events, and then partnerships with area schools and adult day programs. And in those programs, we provide recreation therapy and aquatic therapy, either at the school or they come to our rec centers and we provide it there. We’re expanding our outdoor programming with the Metroparks, so we’re starting to work on kayaking and some other outdoor recreation events with them. And then we also are offering an adult social club so that we can have monthly meetings where everybody gets together to just have fun.

Mara Layne 10:10

It sounds like aquatics is a really big part of your programming.

Jen Knott 10:13

So when I started Rec2Connect, it was just with aquatics and then it’s just grown and fostered into where it is today.

Mara Layne 10:21

That’s so beautiful, and I’m sure that you know then that May is National Drowning Prevention Month. Does Rec2Connect teach water safety as part of its aquatic programming?

Jen Knott 10:31

We do. We do. So our aquatics program is, like you said, a huge part of what we do. It’s the majority of what we provide and we always every month, every moment of what we do is try to promote that safety in and around water. According to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, 70% of childhood drownings occur during non-swim times. So many children are drawn to the water but lack that safety awareness and skills to engage safely without parent supervision at all times. And so, we really try to provide as many swim safety techniques and tools to our participants, and to our parents during our sessions. We created swim levels. So we start with that very basic swim safety skills of floating on our back, blowing bubbles, finding the side of the pool, being able to walk our hands to a safe location, learning how to enter and exit the water safely, and then also never going under water or near water without an adult. So we’ll be providing specific tools, tips for parents and caregivers to use while there, especially with summer coming along, the chances of being around water increase that much more. So we want to be able to provide as many tips and tricks as we can of how to be safe in the water.

Mara Layne 11:48

As we wrap up, we always ask this question of our guests. As a member organization of ADA Cleveland, how will Rec2Connect continue to forward the mission of ADA Cleveland this upcoming year?

Jen Knott 12:00

I think the biggest thing that we do to celebrate individuals with disabilities is by providing those continued experiences, and increase opportunity and access to community recreation in the communities that our individuals live in. Through our community partners, we try to engage the people in those spaces with our participants. They get to see and celebrate the successes as we go forward. So we try to bring attention to that. And then we also offer training for rec staff at community rec centers so that they can understand how they can be more inclusive in their programs and practices as well. We speak on a regular basis to a variety of organizations to further understanding on how to decrease some of those barriers in community rec and how we all can just kind of be a partner in that.

Mara Layne 12:49

Thank you so much for joining us today, Jen, and sharing all about Rec2Connect with our listeners. We really appreciate having you here.

Jen Knott 12:56

Oh, thank you so much. It’s been my pleasure. I appreciate it.

Mara Layne 13:00

You’ve been listening to Disability in the LAND, an ADA Cleveland production. I’m your host, Mara Layne. Special thanks to our guest, Jen Knott, of Rec2Connect. You can find Rec2Connect on their website Rec2Connect.org. That’s R-E-C-2-CONNECT.ORG. Or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as @Rec2ConnectFoundation. ASL interpretation is from Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center. Disability in the LAND is produced by Emily Hastings, with production administration from Laurie Kowalski, marketing from Maria Sivertson, script coordination from Mike Hammer, and sound and video technical production from Mara Layne. That’s me. Stay connected to ADA Cleveland by liking us on Facebook, or following us on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn @ADAinCLE. That’s @ADAinCLE. Or visit our website adacleveland.org for a full video, transcript and ASL interpretation of this podcast. Have a question or comment? We would love to hear from you. Send us an email to ADAinCLE@gmail.com. We’ll see you next time.

EPISODE 3: Art Therapy Studio

Join your host, Mara Layne, as she discovers what ADA Cleveland member organization, Art Therapy Studio, has to offer the disabled population of Northeast Ohio. 

This episode features special guest, Cheryl Pete, Clinical Director of Art Therapy Studio

To discover more about Art Therapy Studio and their programs, visit https://arttherapystudio.org/


Disability in the LAND Episode 3: Art Therapy Studio

Also, available on Anchor



Mara Layne 0:00

Disability in the LAND. Episode 3: Art Therapy Studio. Hello and welcome to Disability in the LAND, the monthly podcast from ADA Cleveland. I’m your host, Mara Layne. Joining us here today is Cheryl Pete with Art Therapy Studio. Since 1967, Art Therapy Studio has been providing art therapy services to the community in Northeast Ohio. At Art Therapy Studio, you will find a staff of trained art therapists and experienced administrators who work with many community organizations and hospitals as well as individuals to help treat and heal those with a variety of addictions, trauma, mental health issues, injuries, illnesses, and stresses, among other things. Thank you for taking the time to join us today, Cheryl. So, first off, could you please introduce yourself to our listeners, including your role and its function within Art Therapy Studio?

Cheryl Pete 0:55

Absolutely. Thanks for having me. My name is Cheryl Pete and I’m the Clinical Director at the Art Therapy Studio. I’m a Board Certified Art Therapist, and as the Clinical Director, I’m responsible for overseeing all of our art therapists and our art therapy programs. So, some of my responsibilities include providing clinical supervision to our staff, helping to design our community art therapy programming, and also serving as the programming contact for our community partners.

Mara Layne 1:22

Wow, it sounds like you’re really accomplishing a lot at Art Therapy Studio. How did you get into this work? What’s your background?

Cheryl Pete 1:30

So after I received my undergraduate degree, which was actually in theater, I worked as a manager at a billboard company for about 10 years. During that time, I had some personal losses and I realized for myself how important art making is for my own healing work and I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if there’s a way to help other people use art to heal? And I’d never heard of art therapy before. So I did a little research and I discovered that there’s a whole field that is exactly that, helping people use art to heal. I found Ursuline College, which provides master’s level training the art therapists need and that was driving distance from where I lived. So I’m really glad that I went back to school and I’m so proud of the work that I do.

Mara Layne 2:12

There’s something funny that we share, which is I also have a bachelor’s degree in theater, and we both ended up working in the nonprofit disability field.

Cheryl Pete 2:21

That’s amazing! That’s awesome.

Mara Layne 2:25

Some of our listeners may not be entirely sure what art therapy is. Could you please provide just a brief explanation?

Cheryl Pete 2:31

Absolutely. Art therapy is a mental health field in which a master’s level trained art therapist uses art as a tool for self-expression, self-awareness and emotional help. Unlike art classes, art therapy focuses on the process of art-making in the content of the artwork, not the finished product. So it can be used with anyone, no matter what their artistic abilities or skill levels are.

Mara Layne 2:57

Wow, so it sounds like it can be really a time for everybody to be involved and work on what they need to through art therapy. Is that true?

Cheryl Pete 3:06


Mara Layne 3:08

In your time with Art Therapy Studio, is there a particular program that made the most impact on the organization and the community around it?

Cheryl Pete 3:16

Yeah, one of our long-standing programs is our Community Art Therapy Program, which is open to all adults in the community. And one of the best things about this program, I think, is that anyone can join regardless of their abilities. So in a typical group, you might have a person recovering from a stroke, a person with mental illness, somebody with a developmental disability, and maybe someone who’s retired and looking for other people to socialize with. And what makes our program so special is that these folks might never encounter each other outside of the studio, but in the in our space, they come together for a shared passion – art – and they build really strong connections. Some of our groups have been together for years.

Mara Layne 3:52

That’s incredible to hear. It sounds like the participants are able to build connections through their shared passion for art. What visible results let you know that Art Therapy Studio is successful?

Cheryl Pete 4:05

Well, there’s the art of course, but also our participants are really wonderful about sharing their experiences with us. And we also have great partnerships in the community and they give us really great feedback. I just feel so blessed because I encounter so many people that are excited about the work they’re doing and excited about working with us, which is great because I’m excited about it too.

Mara Layne 4:28

So, Art Therapy Studio has been helping people for more than 50 years, correct?

Cheryl Pete 4:34


Mara Layne 4:35

Any idea how many people have benefited from Art Therapy Studio?

Cheryl Pete 4:39

A lot. I don’t have an exact number overall in the 50 years. I can tell you in 2021, we provided services to over 3,000 individuals across all of the programs delivered by our art therapists.

Mara Layne 4:52


Cheryl Pete 4:53

Yeah, many of those individuals attend more than one session with us. So, last year, if you count people that we call repeat participants, we had over 10,000 encounters with people in the community. Of course, we were a lot smaller when we started in 1967, but that really shows over the years we really have served a lot of people.

Mara Layne 5:13

Yes, it sounds like it. And in your time working at Art Therapy Studio, is there a particular program that has had a great impact on you? Do you have a favorite?

Cheryl Pete 5:23

You know, it’s really hard because I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many different partners that we have. But one of the things I have to say I am so proud of is how quickly we responded to provide services during the pandemic. So within a week of everything shutting down in 2020, our art therapists were calling to check in with our client artists and within three weeks of the shutdown we were launching virtual programming. We were offering virtual services to new members of the community by April. If you remember, everything shut down in March. And we also found that because we were able to mobilize so quickly, we were able to support many of our partners in launching virtual and even phone art therapy sessions so that we could support their clients and our whole community during such an uncertain time.

Mara Layne 6:13

Wow, it sounds like you were really there to support your community, especially during unprecedented events like the pandemic.

Cheryl Pete 6:20

Yeah. Yeah, it was an adventure.

Mara Layne 6:24

Oh, I’m sure, absolutely. That’s a wonderful way to frame it.

Cheryl Pete 6:29


Mara Layne 6:30

And your participants, do the most successful participants, the ones who benefit from Art Therapy Studio programs the most, do they have any particular backgrounds or skills before they come to Art Therapy Studio?

Cheryl Pete 6:43

You know, people come to us from all different backgrounds. I think something that’s really important is having a sense of adventure and also curiosity. So people don’t have to be good at art, or have any experience with art at all. It’s really more about the process than the finished product. And what I find is that when people give themselves permission to make mistakes, it’s a great way to learn in art and in life.

Mara Layne 7:06

Personally, I love that phrase – process over product. That’s beautiful.

Cheryl Pete 7:11

Yeah, we say trust the process a lot.

Mara Layne 7:14

Trust the process. Absolutely. Yes. I think you have to, especially in this field.

Cheryl Pete 7:19

You do.

Mara Layne 7:20

Art Therapy Studio offers community art therapy classes which are open for the community to attend. Can you tell us a little bit about that program and how people can take part of in that?

Cheryl Pete 7:31

Absolutely. Um, so we have about 11 different art therapy programs a week for adults, and people can sign up for a 10 to 11 week session, and it meets for two hours a week. It works a little bit differently than a typical art class where the focus is on teaching techniques. Our art therapists can definitely help people with techniques but what we really do best is encourage people to use that time to explore art materials, connect with other people, create art that expresses something or tells a story, and to use art as a tool for wellness. No art experience is needed. We provide the art supplies. We ask anyone that’s interested in joining, to schedule a meet and greet tour with our Studio Coordinator, which they can do by calling our office at 216-791-9303, or filling out a form on our website, arttherapystudio.org. And so we have them come for a tour before they sign up and we tell them more about all of our programs. We have financial assistance available. And get to know people a little better so that we could help you pick out the right program for you and where you would fit really well.

Mara Layne 8:40

That sounds great. And it sounds like that would be an in-person tour, right?

Cheryl Pete 8:44

Yes. Yes. If we do have virtual programming and so if somebody is interested in virtual programming, we can arrange a virtual tour. We have virtual programming for Ohio residents and we have some of our groups are virtual only and we launched this during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’d never done it before and we found that it increased access for folks that maybe would have never been able to participate in our programming.

Mara Layne 9:09

Similarly, if someone doesn’t have transportation to go to your studio on Fairhill Road in Cleveland, is there still a way for them to be part of Art Therapy Studio, and the community, and the community programming?

Cheryl Pete 9:21

We really recognize how challenging transportation is for many people. And we really want people that don’t have access to transportation to have a way to engage with us. So they can definitely participate in our virtual programming. We have a lot of our participants use things like Paratransit to get to us. We’ll continue to help advocate for better transportation access for people with disabilities because we want more folks to be able to come to our space.

Mara Layne 9:46

It’s funny that you bring that up because ADA Cleveland and Disability in the LAND podcast definitely share your concerns about transportation for people with disabilities.

Cheryl Pete 9:54


Mara Layne 9:55

And ADA Cleveland will actually be focusing on transportation issues, especially for people with disabilities, as an advocacy topic this year. So listeners, stay tuned for that.

Cheryl Pete 10:05

We’re really excited about being a part of that.

Mara Layne 10:09

We’re excited to have you be a part of that! I believe just slightly shifting topics, that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Art Therapy Studio will be offering some special programs to clients. Can you tell us a little bit about what you have planned?

Cheryl Pete 10:24

Yeah, absolutely. We are looking at some collaborations with some of our friends and partners in the community. We don’t quite have the details finalized yet, so we’re not quite ready to announce that but we’ll be taking the time to share ideas about how art therapy can help improve mental health and we’ll have some fun things in the works. We’ll be sharing more information as the time gets closer on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. So be sure to follow us @ArtTherapyStudio on Facebook and @ArtTherapyStudioCLE on Instagram.

Mara Layne 10:54

Well, I think it’s time for us to wrap up this conversation. And in that, we always like to state our mission. ADA Cleveland seeks to CELEBRATE the ongoing legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We LEAD in ensuring access, increasing awareness promoting independence and providing opportunity. We ENGAGE our community as advocates for positive change. And Cheryl, as a member organization of ADA Cleveland, how will Art Therapy Studio continue to forward the mission of ADA Cleveland this upcoming year?

Cheryl Pete 11:27

So at Art Therapy Studio, we passionately believe that art is for everyone, regardless of ability. That really is a core part of our work here at the studio. So we are focusing on supporting the arts community in expanding access to art experiences. One of the things that we’re really excited about is the FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art that is from July 16th to October 2nd, 2022. This year our friends at FRONT are focusing on art as a mode of transformation, healing and therapeutic process, and we’re thrilled to be a part of that conversation as well as collaborating with other arts organizations in the community like SPACES and the Valley Art Center to find other ways to expand access to the arts.

Mara Layne 12:07

That sounds like an incredible way to further ADA Cleveland’s Mission. We’ll definitely keep our eyes on your website for information on that event, and we will share it on ADA Cleveland’s social media pages as well when it becomes available. Cheryl, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing all about Art Therapy Studio with our listeners.

Cheryl Pete 12:28

My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Mara Layne 12:31

You’ve been listening to Disability in the LAND. Special thanks to our guest, Cheryl Pete of Art Therapy Studio. Another special thanks to our ASL interpretation, which comes from Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center. Stay connected to ADA Cleveland by liking us on Facebook,or by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @ADAinCLE. That’s ADAinCLE. Or visit our website adacleveland.org for a full video, transcript and ASL interpretation of this podcast. Have a question or comment? We would love to hear from you. Send us an email to ADAinCLE@gmail.com. This podcast is an ADA Cleveland production. Our producer is Emily Hastings. Administration is managed by Laurie Kowalski, with research by Mike Hammer. I’m your host of this episode and audio and visual technician. Thank you for listening.

Episode 2: UCP of Greater Cleveland

Join your host, Mike Hammer, as he discovers what ADA Cleveland member organization, UCP of Greater Cleveland, has to offer the disabled population of Northeast Ohio. 

This episode features special guests,Amanda Stohrer and Laurene Sweet. 

To discover more about UCP of Greater Cleveland and their programs, visit https://www.ucpcleveland.org/ 


Also, available on Anchor

ASL Interpreted Video

Full Audio Transcript

Mara Layne 0:00

Disability in the Land, an ADA Cleveland production. Episode 2: UCP of Greater Cleveland.

Mike Hammer 0:08

Welcome to Disability in the Land, the podcast from ADA Cleveland. I’m your host, Mike Hammer. I’m a member of the Community Advisory Board for ADA Cleveland. I’m a former journalist and I’m hosting this podcast from my apartment in my wheelchair using some of the best technology we have access to. Today on Disability in the Land I am speaking with Amanda Stohrer and Laurene Sweet who work at UCP of Greater Cleveland. UCP of Greater Cleveland is one of the member organizations of ADA Cleveland. UCP of Greater Cleveland provides services to children and adults with disabilities through their two Centers of Excellence, LeafBridge for children and OakLeaf for adults. Today we’ll be focusing on LeafBridge. Amanda is the Associate Director of LeafBridge and Laurene is the Educational Program Development Manager for LeafBridge. Thank you both for joining Disability in the Land! First off, Amanda, could you please introduce yourself to the listeners? Describe your role and the function you do at UCP of Greater Cleveland.

Amanda Stohrer 2:06

Of course, it’s so great to be here. And thank you so much, Mike, for having us. Hello, everyone. My name is Amanda Stohrer and I am an occupational therapist and assistive technology professional. I currently serve, as Mike said, as the Associate Director of LeafBridge, which is the pediatrics branch at UCP of Greater Cleveland.

Mike Hammer 2:27

Laurene, can you introduce yourself, please?

Laurene Sweet 2:31

Sure, welcome, everyone. We’re so happy to be here with you today. My name is Laurene Sweet and I’m an intervention specialist and assistive technology professional and a doctor of physical therapy. My current role is the Educational Program Development Manager for the LeafBridge Alternative Education Program.

Mike Hammer 2:50

Tell our listeners a bit about your backgrounds. How you became interested in the work you do? Amanda, we’ll start with you first.

Amanda Stohrer 3:02

Sure. So my journey into my career started back in high school. That’s where I discovered my passion for health care, and in particular, the joy of working with children. I chose a career path then where I could focus on improving the engagement and independence of children with disabilities. I’ve been an OT for 13 years. I got my masters at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And for 12 of those years I’ve been working here at UCP of Greater Cleveland and serving children with complex disabilities. I have been afforded incredible opportunities to collaborate with experts in the field and to build on a variety of skills, and I am just continuously excited and inspired by the incredible team of professionals that I work alongside of.

Mike Hammer 3:49

Excellent. Laurene?

Laurene Sweet 3:52

Okay. Well, my background is a little bit unique. I started out as a physical therapist for children with autism in an educational program and it was here that my curiosity really grew with how children learn. So, in 2007, an opportunity came up with a federal grant for a master’s degree in special education and this included a concentration in assistive technology. So this program really opened my heart and actually my mind and it brought me home to UCP Cleveland about 15 years ago. So it’s here that I linked together the fields of physical therapy, assistive technology and education and became an intervention specialist. And it’s been really joyful to serve children and adults with some very complex needs in our programs. And especially alongside our incredible group of teachers and therapists and the leaders at our agency.

Mike Hammer 4:51

Thank you both for sharing your backgrounds. You both right now work at the LeafBridge Center.

Amanda Stohrer 4:59

So LeafBridge, which is our Center of Excellence for Children, is the pediatrics brand of UCP of Greater Cleveland. So we have OakLeaf, which is the branding for our adult programming and LeafBridge for our pediatrics programming. And we offer an array of services for, as you said, children, teens and young adults up to 22, but we’re kind of loose with that number that includes outpatient therapies, like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy. We also offer our Therapy Services – PT, OT, and Speech – via contracts to local school districts in the Northeast Ohio area. And we offer case management supports, assistive technology evaluations and trainings, as well as an array of other educational services.

Mike Hammer 5:47

That’s located on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Is that correct?

Amanda Stohrer 5:54

We are. We’re on Euclid and East 101stwhich is right by Cleveland Clinic’s main campus area. And we have a couple of group homes in the Northeast Ohio area, and we have an alternative education program, which is currently in a facility just about two or three blocks north of our main campus building, which we call Wolstein. And that’s the one you referenced on Euclid and East 101st.

Mike Hammer 6:22

Laurene, can you tell me what makes the LeafBridge Alternative Education Program unique?

Laurene Sweet 6:32

Sure. Thank you for asking that because we believe that our program is incredibly special. Particularly for kiddos with really complex needs. Our team works extremely hard to deeply understand each student. In particular, their strengths and their abilities. And it’s rare to find a program that has the intensity of support as ours does with physical, occupational and speech therapies embedded right into the program every single day. And what’s more as we have some exceptional assistive technology professionals, and this is to ensure that every learner has access to the curriculum. It’s all about accessibility. And we go to great lengths to collaborate with our community partners, as we mentioned, and some of these include teachers of the visually impaired, music therapists, teachers of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and so many more so that every one of our learners succeeds.

Mike Hammer 7:29

Your goal is to be inclusive. What are your thoughts? What is UCP of Greater Cleveland’s thoughts about including people?

Amanda Stohrer 7:41

I think this is such an important question to ask, Mike, always in any of the programming that we’re doing at UCP. It’s really important to remember that inclusion is a philosophy rather than a place. Inclusion is a state of being valued and respected and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions for each child to achieve their full potential. We know that for learners with complex needs, this requires a village. A village with very specific skills that can be difficult to pull together in traditional school settings. This involves a melding of an educational and a therapeutic approach. Our hope is to eventually partner with schools and other programs to make this an achievable reality across all settings that students are in.

Mike Hammer 8:31

Our listeners or other people in the disability community in Cleveland and members of ADA Cleveland, how can they get included? Can they get involved in UCP of Greater Cleveland?

Laurene Sweet 8:51

Well, we would love to have more people in our village. We would love to partner with advocates and community members to make connections and get the word out about the extensive services that we offer in the LeafBridge Alternative Education Program as well as our entire program with UCP. We have really unique and specialized skills that help to break down barriers to create schools and learning communities that are truly accessible and rich with opportunities for all children.

Mike Hammer 9:24

ADA Cleveland seeks to celebrate the ongoing legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We lead to ensure access, increase awareness, promote independence and provide opportunities for those with disabilities. We engage our community as advocates for positive change. As a member organization of ADA Cleveland, how will UCP of Greater Cleveland continue to forward the mission of ADA Cleveland in the coming year?

Amanda Stohrer 10:12

This really connects back to what Laurene talked about with accessibility. UCP Cleveland provides a wide and deep spectrum of services to support people across the lifespan. We promote positive change by advocating for everyone, including our most vulnerable and historically marginalized individuals. In addition to promoting access related to education, our agency forwards the mission of ADA Cleveland by also removing barriers in workplaces, in homes and across the community with a goal to create access and inclusion with everyone.

Mike Hammer 10:46

Well, I appreciate your time today. Thank you for making this a good show.

Laurene Sweet 10:52

Thank you for having us, Mike. It was a pleasure to be here.

Amanda Stohrer 10:55

Thank you, everyone. It’s really great.

Mara Layne 10:58

You’ve been listening to Disability in the Land, an ADA Cleveland production. Your host is Mike Hammer. Special thanks to our guests, Amanda Stohrer and Laurene Sweet of UCP of Greater Cleveland. ASL interpretation is from Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center. You can find UCP of Greater Cleveland at www.ucpcleveland.org or by emailing info@ucpcleveland.org or calling 216-791-8363. Stay connected to ADA Cleveland by liking us on Facebook, or by following us on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn @ADAinCLE. Or visit our website, ADACleveland.org, for a full video, transcript and ASL interpretation of this podcast that will all be on the website. Have a question or a comment? We would love to hear from you. Send us an email to ADAinCLE@gmail.com.

Episode 1: Youth Challenge

Join your host, Mike Hammer, as he discovers what ADA Cleveland member organization, Youth Challenge, has to offer the disabled population of Northeast Ohio. 

This episode features special guest, Alumni Program Assistant for Youth Challenge, Sara Stimle. 

To discover more about Youth Challenge and their programs, visit https://www.youthchallengesports.com/


Also, available on Anchor

ASL Interpreted Video

Going forward, ADA Cleveland will incorporate the video of our English speakers as well in the ASL interpreted video, however, only the ASL interpretation is included in this case. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Full Audio Transcript

Mara Layne 0:00

The mission of ADA Cleveland is to bring together organizations and individuals to celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act by leading efforts to expand access and opportunity and engaging the community as advocates for positive change. It is composed of local agencies, nonprofits and businesses located in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio area that are dedicated to providing information and services to individuals with disabilities, as well as their family members and caretakers.

Episode One Youth Challenge.

Mike Hammer  0:36

Welcome to Disability in the Land. My name is Mike Hammer. I’m your host. I’m a member of the ADA Cleveland Advisory board. Today I’m going to speak with Sara Stimle who is the Alumni Program Assistant at Youth Challenge in Cleveland, Ohio. Youth Challenge is a member organization of ADA Cleveland. Sara, thank you for being here with us today. We love Youth Challenge and their mission to bring together young people with physical disabilities and teen volunteers who inspire each other through adapted sports, recreation, and social growth activities. Can you tell us a little bit more about Youth Challenge and your role with the organization?

Sara Stimle  1:41

Sure Mike, thank you for having me. Like Mike said I am an Alumni Program Assistant, where I helped create programs for participants and volunteers that our alumni, and I also co-lead the programs that we have for our alumni, participants and volunteers and I helped manage our alumni social media account. And I have also assisted alumni participants with applications for waivers, housing and transportation as well.

Mike Hammer  2:12

How did you get involved with Youth Challenge?

Sara Stimle  2:15

I was born and raised in Parma, Ohio, and I was born with a disability called cerebral palsy which affects the way I do things physically, and I have been a participant of YC since I was five years old. YC has taught me to think outside the box and to go after what I want. YC really gave me the confidence by giving me life experiences such as an internship at YC that I felt ready enough that when I graduated from high school, I went to Wright State University and graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services. Right after college I was hired at an adult activity center and employment services agencies that serve people with disabilities and then COVID hit and unfortunately I got laid off but I’m not I’m not one to just sit still. So when I found myself on Zoom, a lot helping plan our Alumni Programs. And when things started opening back up, I found myself at YC so much more as a participant and also professionally as well and it has been so rewarding being able to grow up with YC and be able to grow a portion of YC is like the Alumni Programs from the ground up. So when the opportunity came to go on staff I knew it was exactly where I was meant to be. Youth Challenge is located in Westlake Ohio. And then we also have that’s our main location, and then we also have our East Side location which is located in the Hanna Perkins center in Shaker Heights

Mike Hammer  3:59

What kind of youth challenges did you get involved with?

Sara Stimle  4:04

When I was younger we would do the typical YC programs which is like basketball, baseball, swimming, you name it, we did it. We’ve gone skiing, we’ve gone horseback riding, so we’ve done all of that. But as I grew older, we also got into learning more about advocacy and independent living in college. So that is where I really I think got the attitude and got you know that my disability is very small into what I can really offer in this world. So, I think it’s given me a platform and kind of more of a voice because when I did start YC I was this little shy little five year old so I think it really has brought me out of my shell as well because everyone around me has a disability so it doesn’t matter that I have a disability as well how those

Mike Hammer  5:00

How does Youth Challenge provide adapted things for people to play?

Sara Stimle  5:06

So, Youth Challenge kind of think outside the box for everything that you can imagine that we do. So we have teen volunteers that actually help our participants participate in the activity whether that is horseback riding or ceramics or just playing a game of basketball in our gym.

Mike Hammer  5:29

And nowadays you said you still do some sports but you’re more involved with coordinating services for program alumni. What is your day like?

Sara Stimle  5:43

So during COVID what we noticed was our alumni was really struggling, you know, because they couldn’t get out they couldn’t see their friends. So what we came up with was, let’s do all our programs on Zoom during COVID, because you challenged was shut down we focused on four main pillars because that’s what ACT, the Alumni Programs, Alumni Community Team is formed around were formed around wellness, social, outreach, and advocacy. So, during this time, and even now, we continue these are virtual programs as well. We do a game night, we do gratitude, where we talk about like what we’re thankful for and learn just about different gratitude, podcast, and ways to show gratitude as well. So and then I also teach a fitness class virtually on Zoom, and then so we kind of created that to where we had all these like social programs within that calendar all on Zoom, and then when we were able to go back in person, we still kept those three gratitude, fitness, and Game Night virtual programs just because we still felt that we still have participants, alumni participants, that are at home. So, we want to give them a space to just be together and to be with friends and be able to share their voices and talents still. But now that we’re back in person, we have a lot more social programs. We just did a service program where we decorated ornaments and we created care packages for participants that might need a little joy during the holiday season.

Mike Hammer  7:28

Fantastic. Alright, so people are going to the Westlake main office right now youth challenge how many participants are there? How many show up every day? Do you do the same sports every day?

Sara Stimle  7:48

So, we have our regular programs, which are for ages four to 18. So those are the ones that we have during the week. During the school year, they’re after school, and these are where we do basketball, ceramics swimming right now we’re even doing a video game program. So, our main programs are four to 18. We also have a Crazy Camp program. And that’s specifically for participants ages four to eight so we’ll do a craft or we’ll do some kind of usually during the school year it’s more of like a holiday program like we’ll get together once a month with our Crazy Campers and then during the summer is where we’ll have more of our during-the-day programs where we’re swimming, where we’re going to different parks and getting out and doing physical activities, you know, just crazy, crazy, fun games that our staff makes up. So just to really get outside. That’s kind of especially during COVID is what we really did. We focused all our programs outside until winter came and then we now have moved into the indoor programs as well. We also have our YELP program. So this is where our participants are 16 to 25 years old, and they focus more on social outings. Such as to Main Event, or peer support discussions on specific education topics such as like mental health, independent, and advocacy. And then we have our alumni programs that meet about once to twice a month. And then we also have our sports teams, which gives the opportunity for participants to compete competitively in sports. Some of the sports include ambulatory soccer, which is like seven on seven soccer and Go Ball which is one soccer and then Boccia, as well.

Mike Hammer  9:55

You mentioned you coordinate services for the alumni. And you mentioned that there’s transportation available to alumni tell us a little bit about the Paratransit issues advocating for greater access among the people you’re coordinating with.

Sara Stimle  10:19

So, 95% of our participants utilize transportation to and from programs when we’re planning these programs is really important. For us, you know, can we get our participants to program we do have a fleet of wheelchair accessible vans, and those we offer transportation to and from all our the majority of our main programs. So, are like eight to 18 year old programs and then for our YELP participants who are ages 16 to 25. They usually have either their parent or caregiver take them or they’ll utilize Paratransit that as well. And that goes kind of the same for the alumni, our transportation can be used, but it’s used more as add as needed service just because we want to kind of teach that you know life skill of independence you know, scheduling transportation and being able to get out into your community on your own. So, when keeping in mind, especially with our Yelp, in our Alumni Programs, we always like to make sure that our participants can get there it is at a location that Paratransit runs to or if not, can we pick the participant up? Or can they meet at YC and then we will drive them to the actual program?

Mike Hammer  11:54

Are these program locations all around Cleveland?

Sara Stimle 12:01

Yes, they’re all around Greater Cleveland.

Mike Hammer 12:05

Okay, and people come participants come from all over?

Sara Stimle  12:08

Yes, we serve participants in Cuyahoga County, Lorain County… We’ve had participants as far as Arizona, California. So, our virtual programs have really brought especially our alumni participants back to YC.

Mike Hammer  12:26

Fantastic. Alright, Youth Challenge is a member organization of ADA Cleveland, and you are able to meet the needs of a lot of the community members. And, for people who are not aware of Youth Challenge right now. How can they get involved and how can you meet their needs? Are there any special way ways for disability allies or disabled people to get a hold of you?

Sara Stimle  13:03

Well, for our teen volunteers that are between the ages of 12 and 18, we do have volunteer opportunities. And we also for our Alumni Programs, we are looking for more of like young adult volunteers as well to join our alumni community team as well. And then for anyone that is really looking for like a young professionals group, we do YP for YC, which is for people with disabilities, with physical disabilities, and people without disabilities, and this group helps raise funds and awareness for Youth Challenge. You can also check us out on our website at www.youthchallengesports.com. For more information on ways to get involved

Mike Hammer  13:57

Alright, well, thank you for joining us today and telling us more about Youth Challenge.

Sara Stimle  14:03

Thank you for having me,

Mara Layne 14:05

You’ve been listening to Disability in the Land an ADA Cleveland production. Your host is Mike Hammer. Special thanks to our guest Sara Stimle of Youth Challenge. Stay connected to ADA Cleveland by liking us on Facebook, or by following us on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn @ADAincle or visit our website Adacleveland.org for a video, full transcript and ASL interpretation of this podcast. Have questions or comments? We would love to hear from you. Send us an email to adaincle@gmail.com. I’m Mara Layne, marketing co-chair of ADA Cleveland. Thank you for being here.