I CAN! of Arkansas and its programs are inspired by I CAN! Dance class, which began when 2- year-old Katie Mayberry – born with spina bifida and mobile through the use of a wheelchair – asked her mother if she could take a dance class like her big sister, Ellie. Her mom, Julie, replied, “When you turn three.” Julie thought Katie would forget about it. When Katie turned three she asked her mom again and Julie knew she had to find other children with disabilities to form a dance class. When asked why she didn’t just tell Katie that she couldn’t take dance, Julie commented, “I simply couldn’t squash her dreams. I couldn’t tell her that she couldn’t aspire to ‘be.’”
Based on the Bible verse from Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” the first class began in 2005 with two students, both in wheelchairs. It has now grown to nine full classes. Each class has approximately ten children, ages four to adult, with disabilities including spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental delays.
The classes also include dancing “Buddies.” These are children, ages ten to adult, who assist with children in need of one-on-one attention. Some need help by moving their arms and wheelchairs, while others need help focusing their attention. Some of the buddies are siblings to the children, allowing these families to enjoy an activity together.
I CAN! of Arkansas began to add other program areas and, in Fall 2012, a total of 99 slots were filled across six program areas: dance, soccer, art, music, disc golf, and cheerleading. Fifty buddies helped in those classes by providing one-on-one assistance to special needs children.
I CAN! Dancers perform locally at various events like Riverfest and the Greek Food Festival but have also performing nationally at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas.