miss alysia’s playhouse

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piglet

On the wall at SenseAbility

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On Sunday afternoon, The Wilsons piled our little traveling yard sale into the car and headed out on a very special mission.

We were finally going to see the results of my dear friend, Alysia’s labor of love, the Senseability Gym in Hopedale, MA.

To be clear, we were thrilled to get to play, but this trip was far bigger than a visit to a gym, even a sensory gym — we were going to bear witness to what happens when two mamas share a dream for kids like ours. And when they steadfastly refuse to let anything stop them from making it real.

Over a year ago, Alysia and her friend Tina said, “We need this place.” So they set about creating it.

They did not have a lot of money. They did not have millionaire’s Rolodexes. They did not have political connections. Hell, they didn’t even have time.

But they had something bigger than any of those things. Belief. In themselves, in the gym, and in the raw power of love and community and family and HOPE.

They are real, every day people, just like you and me, who turned an “I wish there was …” into a real, live, “Now there is.” They turned a dream into a place, a place where children — ALL children — are free to be themselves. A place where siblings and parents are part of the action. And a place where families have a chance to connect – with each other and with other families who know .. who just know.

So on Sunday, we headed out to Hopedale to check it out.

As soon as we got there, Brooke ran right in, no questions asked. She knows when she’s home.

She circled the mats, her hair flying behind her, her happy, stimmy squeal lightening the room, and with it, her Mama’s heavy heart.

Katie jumped onto the giant ring swing and twirled happily. Within minutes, she and her sister were racing on the pedal cars. A couple more minutes in, Alysia’s son, Gerry was in on the action. He and Katie couldn’t stop laughing long enough to decide who really won the car race once Katie changed the rules halfway through.

While the kids played, I sat with Alysia and caught up on Mama talk. We talked about the kids. We talked about mutual friends. We’d made a silent pact not to acknowledge the moment. It was too big.

Once, she caught me – a tear escaped – “No!” she said, “we’re not doing that!”

I laughed. We both knew that if we let the dam open, the waters would be unstoppable.

But by God, this was huge. The fact that this place that we’ve talked about for so long — this “I wish there was” — was now not just here in front of us, but containing us, providing for us, offering our children such irrepressible joy and us this delicious escape that we so desperately needed, that *I* so desperately needed — it was too much to process.

It had been one week since their grand opening celebration. In that single week they’d welcomed 100 children – 65 families – into this magical space. They’d made connections — father to son, brother to sister, mother to mother, child to new friend.

I watched Brooke make her way around the gym as we talked. She didn’t need the tour that Alysia had offered. She wandered through the main play area as if she owned the place — all of the equipment familiar, manageable, accessible. She found the quiet room. She peeked inside the tent and put her hand on the bubbles. And once she’d found the toys and puzzles in the therapy room, I thought we’d never leave.

I watched Katie play with abandon. Finally in a place where she wouldn’t have to wonder who was watching, noticing, seeing. No one cared here. No longer on alert, she could simply be. It was a joy to behold.

I watched Luau jumping in with the kids – everything purposefully made to hold enough weight for a dad to play too.

And I watched Alysia watching it all with me, quietly beaming.

I am so happy for all of the kids and families who now have this place. And I’m so, so proud of my friend for bringing it to life. But not just proud – grateful. Because in doing this from the ground up,  she and Tina reminded us — every one of US — that we have the power to do the same. Because all it takes is every day people who believe it’s possible.

When it was time to go, Brooke turned around and looked back into the gym. She wasn’t ready to leave. I promised her we’d come back soon. “Tomorrow?” she asked. “because I really love Miss Alysia’s playhouse.”

I promised we’d come back soon. Not just for her, but for all of us.

Thank you, A. You did it.

ball pit!

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32 thoughts on “miss alysia’s playhouse

  1. Well the tear dam is broken now…
    I am so happy that you came to play but more than that I’m am so happy that you felt what you felt. Everything you said is what we want – our kiddos to feel at home, their siblings to feel free, the dads to feel comfortable, and the moms able to relax.
    Tina and i are so grateful to you and all the families who have helped. it’s the smile on Brooke’s face and Katie’s face (and yours and Luau’s) that show us we’re doing the right thing.
    Love you and your family. Thank you <3

  2. I am so excited to bring Cullen out there in the near future. I only wish I still lived in Massachusetts so we could enjoy it more often. Congratulations Alysia and Tina!!

  3. Congrats to Alysia and Tina on this amazing feat! How I *wish* there was something like this in NJ. Sounds just perfectly amazing!

  4. Thanks Jess! (i’m not a pretty cryer!)…Alysia and Tina are amazing moms and friends and advocates for all of our kids. There is pure joy in that space and excitement of what can be for these kids in their future. A Friendship making hot spot for boys,girls,and parents! a big squeeze machine hug to all!

  5. Thank you… you’ve just said everything I’ve been feeling since we piled into the car for our first visit there last Friday. It’s so much bigger than I could put into words yet… it’s overwhelming, really. We’d lost our OT gym here for our three when they closed its department doors. But the news of Alysia’s idea gave me the glimmer of hope… when we arrived there last week our kids dove right in, feeling right at home. And so did I. Thank you, Alysia & Tina… thank you Jess for sharing your family’s story. So proud and grateful to be part of our community. And, yes, we need one here, too. That’s the thought that been with me all along. :)

  6. I’m so glad you were all able to visit! I was hoping you’d be able to go check out the completed space – to see it, experience it, and feel it. We went last week too. Alyson’s and Tina have created something really special! Maybe our families will see each other at the gym sometime. :)

  7. I love it and I am seriously considering making one. Would love to hear how they went about it. Is it a non profit or are they charging….etc??

    • Oh how I love this comment. It’s a nonprofit and they are charging a minimal fee (on a sliding scale) to cover expenses. Check out the website (just click on Senseability Gym in the post) for more details and contact info.

      YOU CAN DO IT!!!!

  8. I love that Alysia and her friend were able to get this built..it is testament that if there is s will, there is a way. Sooooo happy for them and the families they’ve reached…this is a true inspiration.

  9. I have all kinds of things to say about this gym, but I think I am going to join your silent pact because otherwise I would never be able to stop. It is AMAZING what they did, what they made.

  10. We went there last Saturday for a play date between my son (Reid) and his friend to have a place to play on a regular basis and it was great! There were 4-5 children there and the best part for me was seeing the parents interacting with other peoples children in the most accepting way possible! A lovely little girl that is mostly nonverbal took my hand and brought me over to play ball with her and her mom while another father pushed my son on the swing. It has my vote!

    Kim

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