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Utah nonprofit for adults and children with disabilities expands reach through Facebook grant

Participants engage in Just for Kids of Utah County’s HIVE at Home program. (Michelle Holbrook)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

LEHI — The beginning of what would become the nonprofit Just For Kids of Utah County and all its programs started with a mother’s question.

Michelle Holbrook, founder of Just For Kids, wanted to know why her 5-year-old boy was sitting on a tiny stool in the room for 3-year-olds at his summer program. Curtis Holbrook was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder at the age of 2.

The disorder causes intellectual disability along with other physical symptoms, but like any other child, Curtis wanted to play with his peers.

Due to his intellectual disability, the summer school reasoned that since he was on a similar level as the 2-year-olds, he should sit with that group.

“I thought, ‘Oh I’m gonna have to get involved with this whole order because I don’t feel good about this.’ If you’re 5, you should be sitting on a 5-year-old stool,” Holbrook said. “That was my eye-opening experience that we need to advocate and help our children.”

The instability of summer school programs and lack of understanding spurred Holbrook to create Just for Kids of Utah County. The nonprofit organization would provide consistent and stable summer programming for children with disabilities.

The program began in 2004 but didn’t officially become a nonprofit until 2009. With its new nonprofit status, the group approached the city of Lehi and asked if the group could create a swim team. The group was quickly told yes and the first Just for Kids swim team was created.

“I found that that’s the case — if you have a little bit of a plan and you put it together, usually that you can make things happen,” Holbrook said.

From there, the nonprofit expanded with its Just For Kids athletics program. The program catered to both adults and children with disabilities to compete in a variety of sports.

“We do basketball, bowling, swimming and volleyball. We have had athletes swim in Greece at World Games. We have had an athlete swim in Florida just recently and also in Kansas. We had a basketball team in New Jersey. We are good, and even if we don’t make it to nationals, we have a great time playing in Lehi,” said Holbrook.

The summer program and Just For Kids athletics then saw the addition of the Habilitation, Independence, Vocation, Education and socialization (HIVEs) program. The program is meant to fill the gap when federally or state-funded services stop.

“When they turn 22, all of those services are gone. They don’t have access to education or anything and there is funding for people with disabilities in the state of Utah, but it’s limited,” Holbrook said.

The HIVEs program is an educational program for adults with disabilities that also creates opportunities for socialization. The nonprofit has worked in partnership with the city of Lehi throughout the years, leasing spaces.

The group was working on putting on a play of “Beauty and the Beast,” borrowing sets and supplies from Lehi High School which was also performing it, when COVID-19 hit.

In the true spirit of “the show must go on,” Holbrook turned to Zoom. The HIVEs members performed live on Zoom with nearly 200 attendees. The success of the performance spurred “Live with HIVE,” a virtual version of the HIVEs program.

“It really turned out to be fun because all of those people who were not able to participate with us could come on with us with HIVEs at Home, so that was a good thing about COVID,” she said. “It was a hard time, but it was a good thing for us because we would have never thought about this otherwise.”

The virtual program attracts participants from across the United States and welcomes in-state participants as well.

“Do you see how you get the advantage of reaching people that you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise? And it doesn’t cost anything, it’s free. They can just log on,” Holbrook said. “I love that idea that we have access to serving people in a less expensive way, just a better way to serve more individuals.”

The intersection of technology and service has led to a grant from Meta’s Eagle Mountain Data Center. Just For Kids of Utah County has received a Meta Community Action grant from the Eagle Mountain Data Center two years in a row.

“That’s how impressive they are with some of their programs,” said William Marks, community development manager for Eagle Mountain Data Center.

“We really try to focus on STEM education and putting the power of technology to use in our community, and then also bringing together people in the community online or offline. Part of the reason why we’re so impressed with Just for Kids is they really do all three of those,” he continued.

The community grant has helped the nonprofit fund the virtual livestreams and purchase equipment to support the program. Beyond its virtual expansion, the program has announced the building of the Curtis Center for Arts and Education on 2100 North in Lehi. The center is scheduled to open in 2023, according to Holbrook.

“The Curtis Center is Curtis’ story, but it’s your story. It’s our story, our experiences, pathways, connections, friends, magic and dreams. It’s our place,” said Holbrook at the groundbreaking.

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Ashley Fredde covers human services, minority communities and women’s issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She’s a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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