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Ability Tree continues growth with opening of new rest and recreation center

Celebrating nearly a decade of serving families impacted by disability, Ability Tree, a faith-based nonprofit, recently opened a new rest and recreation center.

A large, playful tree with branches outstretched greeted visitors and families as they entered into the lobby. The nature theme continues throughout the center with bright green doorways and tree branches leading to different play and activity areas, including the calming room, multi-sensory room, craft room and gymnasium. Each room of the 10,000 square-foot space features exciting activities such as an interactive “pond” projected on the floor of the calming room, swings and climbing blocks in the sensory gym and an outdoor play space.

During the grand opening ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 18, co-founder of Ability Tree Jen Butler shared how the process of building the new space was exciting for her son, Micah, who has cerebral palsy. “He would come in with me and talk with all the working guys, making friends. One day I came home with him and he was still really excited about just being here as we were working,” Butler said. “He said to me, ‘I was at my Ability Tree today.’ I think something that is so special to me is that he said ‘my,’ that it’s his and he’s not the only one. It’s not that we only did this for Micah. There’s other kiddos that have been coming to Ability Tree for a long time, and it’s special to them. They call it theirs and they feel safe and they come and have fun and make friends.”

John Macikas, resident director of J. Alvin dorm at John Brown University, serves as a volunteer team leader for the Parents’ Night Out program. With the new location, Macikas looks forward to opportunities in a larger space. “I’m most excited about deepening and advancing the influence of Ability Tree and the impact that it’s going to have on children and families,” Macikas said. “Just looking at the building, at its size, at its beauty, its resources. That’s really cool. It brings excitement, it brings joy and it brings visibility. Families are really going to enjoy this space.”

Joe Butler, co-founder of Ability Tree, shared with visitors how the vision for R.E.S.T (recreation, education, support and training) began in 2009 while speaking at a church about creating more inclusive environments for individuals with disabilities. “We had been traveling around helping to equip churches, but we weren’t meeting very many families in the church because unfortunately, sometimes as people we’re uncomfortable with the unknown. We fear the unknown,” he said. “We don’t know what to say or what to do. We don’t say or do anything, and we further marginalize people … Disability affects every age, every ethnicity, every social class. This dream and vision of a disability outreach center ended up becoming Ability Tree.”

Above all, Butler stressed the importance of faith. “We are forever grateful to see this come to fruition and to see what God is doing,” Butler said. “We give God the glory because this building didn’t come from us. We couldn’t imagine it.”

Amy Dunn, family membership and volunteer coordinator, echoed Butler, sharing about the fundraising and support process. “We’ve just been constantly awed by God’s amazing provision when it has come to funding and just bringing the right people with different gifts, not just financial but time and expertise in specific areas as well.”

Dunn also shared about the part of the rest and recreation center that brings her the most joy. “I am super excited to be able to offer the option of an outdoor play-space. It has specialized equipment and will allow them a safe space to run and play.”

As a parent of two children with disabilities, Angie Rogers feels grateful for the support that Ability Tree offers families. “My two daughters Cecelia and Lilianna both have different disabilities, so we use Ability Tree for the afterschool program and for the respite family night. We have no family in town, so this is our one night a month that we get to go out,” Rogers said.

The new building offers opportunities for all of Rogers’ children. “Because their ministry includes the whole family, we feel like some of our children needed more space,” Rogers said. “This provides not only better therapy options but also space for the whole family that they’ll all want to come. They love all the volunteers here and this will bring in more volunteers.”

Hopeful for the ministry’s future, Rogers shared the importance of community involvement. “The more that the community sees the variety of disabilities in our community, the more that they are going to want to be educated,” Rogers said. “The more that people are educated on disabilities, they are less afraid and therefore the more apt they are to include your children in different things that are already in existence in the community. That’s a dream that I have for my girls, that they can be included in other areas of life.”

For individuals interested in partnering with Ability Tree, they can contact Amy Dunn at amy@abilitytree.org with any questions. To fill out a volunteer application, go to abilitytree.org/volunteer.