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.

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