Since it’s Fun Week here at the ranch we thought we’d profile a company that was extra welcoming to the special needs community. I wanted to talk with someone that could share some tips with us about how to approach businesses in our own neighborhoods so that we could think about ways to get out kids out into the community in a safe, welcoming environment.
Sounds easy, right? Not so. For the past two weeks I’ve reached out to companies that already host special needs friendly events but have yet to hear back from one of them.
Sensory Friendly Films and the organization that arranged it was at the top of my list. The Autism Society (I didn’t leave a message for them because they were out for their national conference) has planned with a national chain of theaters, AMC, to host sensory friendly films. They offer a blocked out time period, usually a Saturday morning at a few theaters in the city strategically spaced apart where the sound is turned down a bit, (once a month maybe?) the lights turned up a bit, and you know everyone else in the theater is fine with more wiggles and standing and noises. Great, huh?
I called a Sensory Friendly Film locale AMC theater in our city and spoke with a manager. I told him I wanted to do a feel-good story about how they offer Sensory Friendly Films and he said he wasn’t “allowed” to give interviews and to call their media/press number. He said I’d need to leave a message and they’d call me within an hour. I called, left a detailed message with contact info, story idea, site name. Guess what? AMC media contact never called me back.
A few days later I reached out to Marcus Theaters because they also offer special needs friendly films. You know what? Nothing! I sent the contact an email and left a voicemail. Honestly, I was annoyed and confused.
I was thinking that maybe while outwardly these theaters want to appear like they are special needs friendly they aren’t completely special needs friendly because of lack of interest in helping us share how others can encourage businesses to embrace people with special needs.
I decided to take another route and reached out on a yahoo group in my home state in Georgia to see if people knew of any smaller businesses I could profile. I found out about a Simon Mall, (Mall of Georgia) that hosts gatherings for special needs groups. I called the office, told the person my story idea and she said I’d need the general manager but he wasn’t in so I left him a message. It was specific. I left my contact info and email address thinking he might want to do an email interview. I heard nothing.
We know there are people who don’t welcome people with disabilities. That is why there are laws to protect people with disabilities. In these three examples, I figure that they host their special needs friendly events and move on, but what it really tells me is there is a whole lot more work to be done for inclusion in our communities.
What I did find this week was a local business owner who hosts a lot of events for the community but I sensed she treats all the groups the same way, which I found great comfort in actually.
Meet Courtney Hensley, Stevi B’s/Northlake, in Georgia. She responded to me within an hour and she emailed me her answers to my questions the same day.
I understand that you have had events that are special needs friendly at Stevi B’s/Northlake…have they been private requests from families or from different organized groups (serving kids with special needs)?
When we first opened we were approached by a group–the KISS Foundation–to become involved in helping their families feel at ease at our restaurant. Our staff went thru their training and we have held several fundraising nights for their organization. We have received very positive feedback from the leaders of this group, along with parents that have attended. At any given time there have been from 20-40 special needs families attending these nights.
Do you block off time specifically and close to others during this time and host it as a “private event”? If not, would you consider doing that?
For these events–we simply need to know at least a week prior to schedule a specific day/time so that we can staff accordingly and prepare for a group. If there are special considerations you would like us to know—that would be helpful. Unfortunately we cannot “close” the restaurant during regular operating hours, however, we can suggest certain times when the restaurant may not be as crowded. There is also a “party room” in the back that can be reserved and will hold approximately 35 people. This is nice for a smaller group that wants a bit more privacy than the large dining room area.
We are a business and have normal hours to sell our product and for financial reasons—we cannot close to our regular customers when we state we’re open. We are very flexible with how we can arrange special groups. Also, depending on the time of day you were thinking—we could also consider opening the store an hour early for your group (10-11am) if you wanted the restaurant to yourself.
If a group or individual wanted to start a regular (once a month or once a quarter) event at a business, what would be the best way to approach the owners?
Monthly events are great—and encouraged. They not only act as a regular place for people to meet and feel comfortable….but help the children look forward to something each month. If this is something a group would be interested in, I recommend a call. No need for a written proposal–but I would need to know ahead of time (at least 1 week) and it helps if we set monthly dates to do so ahead of time so it’s set for several months going forward.
Do you offer group discounts?
Depending on the groups’ size—we can discuss a discount. Normally for groups that book consistent nights—we suggest doing fundraising nights where your group will earn back $.50 on every paid buffet that evening.
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For a group of families of kids with special needs approaching a business with some of the ideas of what an event could like like as presented by Courtney would be a good way to start a dialogue. There has to be more Courtneys out there, right?
As our site grows we hope that people in the same areas can arrange get togethers and we hope to find a place as welcoming as Stevi Bs Northlake! Please share information on successful events you’ve planned or attended so we can all learn how to approach our local businesses!
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