Merrimack Hall Offers Fun, Artistic Opportunities for Special Needs Children

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Dance camps, art classes, and yoga are all activities kids participate in during the summer. There’s a place in Huntsville where special needs children get to enjoy the same things!

Kerry Burden nominated Merrimack Hall. Her daughter is in the Dance Your Dreams program. In her email, Burden writes:

“It is the most amazing program I have ever seen and I never make it through a performance without tears. Merrimack Hall has successfully created a program where children with special needs are celebrated and shown respect that they don’t always get in other places.”

In the spirit of Pay it Forward, WHNT NEWS 19 went to Merrimack Hall to deliver $319.

The day WHNT NEWS 19 showed up, a photo session was going on in the performance hall. After it ended, we popped in to surprise Merrimack Hall Founder Debra Jenkins.

“How awesome is that everybody?” shouted Jenkins to the theater full of cheering children and volunteers.

The Dance Your Dreams program started after Jenkins noticed a void in the community.

“When I found out that children with special needs can’t just go to local dance studios and sign up for class or they were excluded from schools and clubs and sporting activities at school, it just seemed wrong to me,” explains Jenkins.

Since 2008, the program has really grown and they’ve witnessed some great things.

“We have students who have never walked in their life and they’ve taken their first steps in our dance studio,” describes Jenkins. “Children who are non-verbal are suddenly singing in our choir.”

Fourteen-year-old Zahra Detweiler is a dance student.

“I love dancing because it makes me happy,” says Detweiler.

She’s also in the creative writing class and has big plans of getting a book published.

“It’s a story of Zahra and a dog and how they use dance to conquer their fear of thunder and lightning when they’re having a sleepover and Zahra wrote the whole thing,” says Jenkins.

“I did,” confirms Detweiler.

All the programs at Merrimack Hall, while making a positive impact for sure, have needs.

“For every child we enroll, we need one volunteer,” says Jenkins.

It’s not a tough job.

“Volunteering with us is fun,” says Jenkins. “You just come to a party once a month and hang out and make new friends with people that have special needs.”

$319 is enough money to sponsor one child for a semester and buy the costume for a performance. To learn more about the Dance Your Dreams program or if you want to volunteer, click here.


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