Hi Randi, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
My name is Randi Delone, owner of We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym- Baltimore – Yikes!! I am also a mother of two amazing children, a devoted wife, a special needs advocate, and an educator of 25 years.
Our son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of 3. Hence, the start of our autism journey. As you may imagine, it was a difficult, stressful, and unpleasant road to travel 20+ years ago. While our special needs journey started at age 3, our son had already overcome many challenges associated with being born premature at 24 weeks and weighing 1 lb. 11oz. The doctors’ prognosis offered little hope and only provided a long list of never to walk, talk, eat or learn to name a few. I refused to accept the ‘Nevers’. We experienced feelings of grief, denial and ultimate acceptance and, thankfully we were resilient.
Once my son was discharged from the NICU and received an autism diagnosis, we spent 3 years in Louisiana in search of the most basic resources to provide our son a quality of life. Finally, I made the decision to move to Maryland after visiting several states and opportunities were located in the area. I moved with no family and no job in search of a better quality of life for our son that had been diagnosed on the Always, Unique, Totally, Intelligent, Sometimes, Mysterious spectrum.
Fast forward twenty-two years, there are several not-so-kind experiences I could share, but we remain committed to focus on the positives. Fortunately, we had an amazing support system and team of practitioners along our journey. I understood the autism would not be removed, but I was unwilling to deny him a quality of life. Our son has participated in a myriad of experiences similar to his neurotypical family and friends.
In the fall of 2019, I came across We Rock The Spectrum Kids Gym (WRTS) as I was planning a 75th birthday party for my mother in the Baltimore area. My mother and son both have birthdays in September and I thought it would be great to plan two parties while family was in town visiting. As I googled special needs party venues/ideas, WRTS appeared in the search and I never looked back. I immediately contacted the franchise, completed the interest form, had a background check, a few conversations with corporate, and met the Founder/CEO and the rest is history.
I wondered for years, “How can I give HOPE or help provide a quality of life and give back to a community that has given us so much?” Our son has made a lot of progress here. He’s resilient, intelligent, loving, funny, and kind –THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE SPECTRUM. I want to provide light and resources to our neurodivergent community. I guess you could say that WRTS Baltimore is my way of paying my blessings forward!
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Yes and no!! The decision to become part of the WRTS brand and to open an all-inclusive gym were easy because I knew I was filling a need for the community. I’ve been part of the autism community and have experienced close to every emotion imaginable through the decades. For most of those years, there were few resources available for neurodivergent families. I understand the need of families to have a place to feel safe as they start their journey and their desire to never apologize for their child(ren) being their unique self. So, there was no challenge in making the decision to join the WRTS franchise and being one of the more than 100 locations worldwide. The personal “why” has been in my heart since the beginning and is crystal clear.
However, once the decision was made, the actual process to become a business owner has been challenging. I immediately relied on my faith and prayed a lot – praying for wisdom, guidance and to remain committed to the purpose. The purpose has always been to give back to the community; be of service and be a resource for families.
The requirement, knowledge and sacrifice to create and operate a business is a huge undertaking- completely took me out of my comfort zone. Business plans, the franchise model, secure financing, locate a space, develop marketing plan, hire architects, apply for permits, commercial insurance, hire contractors were all foreign concepts for someone with no background as an entrepreneur; I was overwhelmed. I reached out for assistance from corporate, fellow We Rock owners and attended several webinars to guide me through these processes as I had a clear goal and vison in mind.
Slowly, I began to see progress after a few bumps in the road and areas began to become smooth – approval for an SBA loan as an African-American female with no business experience in my background – I am an educator with master’s degrees in education and biology. Approved for financing, check!
The next hurdle was locating a space in the desired area, at an affordable price and the right size. I found 4 spaces and had LOIs (letters of intent) with each one but, there would be an obstacle that reared its ugly head and I was back at zero. I remained focused and would not allow the detours to stop me. Ultimately, I found our 5300 sq/ft location in New Town Village in Owings Mills, MD. It has truly been a ‘whack a mole’ process. Location, check!
Currently, the challenge is the construction cost for gym build-out. Our cost has doubled since the initial estimate and additional funding will be needed. Yet, I remain steadfast to the finish line and will continue to press on until grand opening day. I am used to uncertainty and journeys that start bleak but end with beautiful blossoms.
I will remain faithful because I know FAITH makes things possible, not easy.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
We Rock the Spectrum -Baltimore is a gym that provides kids of all ages and abilities a place to play and grow together. As the only kid’s gym to offer an inclusive philosophy, we have found that all children can benefit from our uniquely designed sensory equipment that is specially designed to aid children with sensory processing disorders. As an educator of 25 years, I have seen first-hand the learning, growth and development that takes place when all ability levels come together in a nurtured, inclusive environment.
Our gym will be the ONLY inclusive, sensory-safe indoor playground of its kind in the Baltimore metropolitan area. At the core of our We Rock model is daily open play, where children are welcome to enjoy full use of our sensory-safe gym with parent/guardian supervision. Our gym features a zip line, trampoline, 20 different swings, an arts and crafts area, a calming room, toddler area, imaginative play area, and much more. In addition to these activities, we also offer birthday parties, field trips, classes (music, Zumba, yoga, etc.), support groups, private facility rental, teen night, parents’ night out, and We Rock Care – parents may drop off their child(ren) to play as they complete to-do lists.
We aim to help children in areas of strength, movement, sensory processing, social interactions, and behavior modification. Our gym features 12 pieces of therapeutic equipment designed to address sensory processing concerns that children on the autism spectrum face while providing all children with a sensory diet necessary for development. For example, our zip line helps children with vestibular sensations and sensory feedback while allowing the development of upper-arm and core strength.
We have a mission to assist families across central Maryland accessing We Rock services through the nonprofit, My Brother Rocks the Spectrum (MBRTS). MBRTS raises funds to sponsor and support families to eliminate financial obstacles that may impede their children from accessing services they need year-round.
We want to be a haven for families of neurodivergent children. A place they feel welcome and valued. We are committed to creating a safe, fun, judgment-free, inclusive environment that embraces our motto, “Finally A Place Where You Never Have To Say I’m Sorry”.
Our family is beyond excited to bring this unique opportunity to so many deserving families in the greater Baltimore area and we look forward to welcoming you to We Rock the Spectrum – Baltimore! Our goal is to offer a place where all ages and abilities can accept, love, learn and grow together in a safe and inclusive environment full of resources. Opening in early 2022– We can’t wait to Rock with Baltimore!!
So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
Readers can connect with us on our social media platforms, our website or send us an email. We are looking for volunteers – high school students, college students /interns and retirees. We are looking for fellow small-business owners to collaborate/partner with us to offer classes, sponsor events, and offer party options for the gym. We would love families, schools (including daycare centers), non-profits, and therapists to assist with supporting us and sharing our information with their families.
Donations to our non-profit, My Brother Rocks the Spectrum, are greatly appreciated to continue to fulfill the mission of assisting families in need of financial support to access services we provide www.mybrotherrocksthespectrum.com and donate to our Baltimore location to assist our local community.