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.