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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
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Hernando therapist opens online toy store for special needs kids

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BY KIM DAME

Hernando Today correspondent

Brenda Jones’ world revolves around special needs. As an early intervention behavioral therapist, Jones spends a good portion of her day working with children who have delays in certain areas of their development.

Through interactive play using special toys, tools and techniques, Jones works with children between 1 and 3 years old who are delayed in areas of cognitive, motor and fine motor skills. She uses integrated sensory input, physical movement and repetitive activities to help children with processing disorders learn how to perform better on basic tasks.

“All children learn through play,” Jones said.

Although they may take longer to process the information or to get past intolerances to certain textures, sounds or environments, Jones’ patients eventually grasp concepts when given repetitive therapies that inspire them to learn.

Yet finding the right items, particularly age appropriate toys and gadgets for children with special needs, requires a lot of research, trial and error and, often, financial expense. Companies exist that focus on special needs. But the items are expensive and costly to ship.

“My passion, my goal, is to give the parents access to all these tools and products, to be able to touch them instead of just looking at them online,” Jones said.

But getting a store off the ground proved more difficult than she could have imagined.

As a therapist and a mother of five children with special needs between the ages of 7 and 16, Jones knows first-hand the difficulty of finding toys that will also serve as therapy tools. By chance, she stumbled on a store in Pasco County, specifically focused on therapy toys and tools for children with special needs. And a seed had been planted.

“I wanted to start my own store in Hernando County,” she said.

When the store’s owner was looking to sell the business, Jones jumped on the idea.

Finding a storefront in Hernando was the biggest challenge since she already had everything, including the wall displays, decorative themes and toys that fit every imaginable category. Yet she couldn’t find a landlord that would embrace her business.

Opening a store for children with special needs posed unusual obstacles. Jones had to be certain the space was comfortable, without dangerous exits where a child might run out of the building. She wanted enough space to display her toys, tools and learning materials and allow customers to try them out. She also hoped to add options like an area for workshops, play groups and support meetings.

Jones was disheartened to discover a certain prejudice among those who didn’t fully understand the obstacles facing society’s special needs community.

Her friend and colleague, Sherry Kolb, who has an 11-year-old son with autism, described it as innocent ignorance.

“We wear awareness bracelet’s and tell everyone we’re supporting a cause,” she said, “when in reality most really don’t have a clue what they are supporting.”

Unless you live with a child struggling to compete in a world made for typical functioning children, you can’t possibly know what their obstacles are.

“We don’t even have a clue sometimes,” Jones said with a chuckle. “So how can they?”

Jones doesn’t give up easily.

So she built her business Growing Hope Kids online and currently markets her items through a website that is filled with a diversity of items for stacking, sorting, manipulating, massaging, chewing, and generally building live skills.

She carries weighted items for soothing like blankets, vests and stuffed animals. She has specialty feeding aids, coping tools and adaptive toys for children who need stronger, safer and more visibly appealing toys that can’t be purchased in local stores. There are musical instruments for music therapy, chunky wooden puzzles with large grips for fine motor functioning and even adaptive aids to teach how to tie shoes or secure a buckle.

And she can order nearly any other item including trampolines, walking stilts, runners and therapy balls.

Growing Hope Kids also offers free delivery of any item in stock to Hernando County, typically within 24 hours of the order.

Brenda Jones is still working toward opening a brick and mortar location in Hernando. She hopes to offer gift cards and a registry to also help extended families shop for the exceptional kids in their lives.

“It’s all about play,” said Jones. With the right techniques and supporting items, children can and do learn how to interact in the world, whatever their development may be. “It’s a lot of work but it gets results.”

Biz at a Glance

Name: Growing Hope Kids

Telephone: 352-442-4295

Website: www.growinghopekids.com

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