About Me

Zach, me & Bill, two of my students

Zach, me & Bill, two of my students

The title of this blog came from Elianna, one of the students in my program of arts education for people with special needs. Elianna has cerebral palsy and uses canes to walk but she plans to be a ballerina when she grows up. When I met her in 2008, she was five-years-old and after only a few weeks of dance classes, she told me that, “Dance is beautiful…its like dreaming with your feet.” Her words impacted me, moved me and motivated me to action. I even have her words tattooed across the arch of my left foot.

My name is Debra Jenkins, and I am a 53-year-old married mother of two grown children and a lifelong resident of Alabama. The program that Elianna joined in 2008 has grown from one weekly class for 10 children with special needs into The Johnny Stallings Arts Program (JSAP), a year-round program of comprehensive arts education, a day habilitation program for adults with special needs and a summer camp. Today, JSAP is serving over 400 people with special needs and nearly 200 volunteers in my hometown of Huntsville.

When I created JSAP, I had no experience with people who have special needs. Now, I’ve been profoundly changed by the hundreds of people with special needs such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy and host of other diagnoses who are involved in JSAP.

I created JSAP at Merrimack Hall, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that my husband, Alan, and I founded in 2006, and spend my days there as a full-time volunteer. Before the advent of JSAP, I loved to travel, entertain, read, and shop but I don’t do many of those things today (okay, well I do shop…but only late at night, online) because most of the things I used to think were important or enjoyable or signs of success have gone out the window, replaced by a new outlook on what a life well-lived looks like.

I’m loud, opinionated, friendly, enthusiastic and given to frequent bouts of over-dramatization and exaggeration. I was trained as a dancer, had a career in personnel management and then communications and then spent 15 years as a stay-at-home mom. I started this blog in 2011 because I love to write and because I want to share what I’ve learned from people with special needs…how they’ve upended my thought process on…well, on everything.
Dreaming With Your Feet is about the life lessons, hilarious moments, struggles and triumphs that I’ve experienced with the people with special needs and their families that I have the privilege to know and love.

I hope some of the posts will make you laugh, some will make you cry and some will encourage you to think differently about what it means to be disabled. And that some of them will prompt you to look for ways you can make a difference in someone else’s life. I have learned more in the past six years from people our society says are “different” than I’ve ever learn from anyone who’s “normal.”

Remember…normal is a dryer setting.

Logo design: Song Dance Design
Photography: Katie Stapely Photography
Site design: Ashley Dinges Consulting, LLC

16 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Besides, there’s absolutely nothing normal about you Debra…and I mean that in the best way regarding creativity, passion, compassion, and chutzpah!

  2. Go Emma, my husband, Vance Persall, who is Katie May Burnette’s gwandaddy is also a University of Georgia graduate!!! He thinks he may be one of a few in this land of Auburn/Alabama!!!! Go Dawgs!!!

      • One of the greatest Dawgs to ever come thru UGA lives right here in Huntsville, in case you weren’t aware. Friend of mine, though not really close yet (both busy). Remember Tim Worley?

      • Well, being a Bama fan, I’m not up to speed on all of the Dawgs, but I will be sure to tell my daughter! I would love to have Tim Worley – or any athlete for that matter – visit my program and meet my students. So many of them are huge SEC fans and would love to meet a former SEC football player! Hook us up if you can! And thanks for visiting my blog! Roll Tide and Go Dawgs!

  3. I am someone with a disability and have been dating a guy I would like to marry for 6 years. I met him in Special Olympics. It hard for me a lot of the time because he is autistic. He is on SSDI and I am not because my parents don’t want me to be. I have tried and I can work 40 hours. I am on the HIP 2.0.

    • Thank you for reading my blog and I’m so glad you are in a relationship that matters to you! The response to my post about marriage equality for people with special needs has been incredible – thousands of people from around the globe have read and shared it. Hopefully, things will change in the future and the marriage penalty can be removed so that you and your partner can move forward with marriage if you want to. I’d love to know which sports you competed in! The Special Olympics are awesome and mean so much to so many of my friends who have special needs. Best of luck to you and I hope to hear from you again!

  4. Debra, one of your spiritual gifts from our precious Lord God is the ability to say the words an individual needs to hear in a kind, loving way that she or he will read and reread many times!! Thank you for the blessing you and Merrimack are to Katie May, Lesley and our entire family! I pray for you and Alan daily and I just feel that God will continue to bless you as only He can!!

    • Linda, you are just too kind to me! Your Kate has been such a blessing to our lives, more than we could ever be to hers! I pray for her every day and take inspiration from her spunky spirit! Nothing gets her down! I love that kid soooo much!

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