L.E.E.P. Beyond offers classes for kids on the autism spectrum

Like all good ideas, Mikky Wright says the genesis of L.E.E.P. Beyond came over a glass of wine. Wright was talking with his four-year-old son's therapist, Lorell Marin, about how there was a need for after-school program for kids with special needs, be it kids with autism, aspergers syndrome, sensory processing disorder or developmental disabilities. So they decided to start one. That was in August, and now coming January is LEEP Beyond—a new non-profit offering enrichment classes for kids with special needs, including art, science and yoga. Classes are schedule for Saturdays and after school on weekdays. Wright talked with us over the phone about the program, why it's needed, and how it's grown so quickly.

Tell me a little bit about why you wanted to start LEEP Beyond.
When children go to extra-curricular activities—kids get to play softball, or gymnastics or baseball—these kids don't have anywhere to go. They just kind of watch their siblings participate. I'm actually the parent of a child with special needs. So I was talking with my son's therapist [Marin] in August, we decided these children need activities that they can go to and have the same opportunities to learn socialization, learn teamwork, etc.

The first classes are in January, right?
Yes, August was when, over a glass of wine, we said "We should do this." I've worked in the not-for-profit sector before, so we made an organizational chart, and started laying things out, finding a board of directors, finding volunteers.

It usually takes organizations a long time to get from a glass of wine to up and running. It's only taken you a few months. How did you get things going so quickly? 
There's such a vacuum. There's such a lack of opportunity that as soon as we started putting the word out there, the volunteers started coming in. We had a volunteer accountant, a volunteer lawyer, an organizational volunteer to help us get the 501(c)3. People were coming out of the woodwork to help us get it off the ground. Lorell, Christine Chirchirillo—a teacher at the Peggy Notebaert museum—the three of us met every week, pounded through marketing and fund-raising for 2013, and programming for 2013. The response was so surprisingly positive, we knew we had to get this going and started in January. 

Will your son be taking classes? 
Absolutely. He'll be taking a science class and a yoga class.

Can you tell me a little bit about the space? 
It's a 4,000-square-foot space in River West, one of the converted warehouse spaces over there. It's broken off into six or seven different rooms, a lot of open space for these kids if they need a little time-out session. The rooms are set up so they can do yoga or gymnastics, or if they need to sit down and do a lesson. They're set up so things can be pulled in and pulled out. It's not a static classroom. All of the teachers are actuallly therapists. We have ausic teacher who's also an occupational therapist. Our yoga teacher is an occupational therapist, too. So everyone's coming in keyed in to the special needs and challenges required.

L.E.E.P. Beyond is located at 400 N May St, 773-255-8155​. Classes begin January 14.

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