Therapeutic Learning Center brings new services to Manhattan

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For Manhattan residents with physical and mental challenges such as Down syndrome, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or speech and language deficits, therapy and assistance is now available at a new location.

The Will of Stone Therapeutic Learning Center, 1133 College Ave., opened earlier this year, and has since begun offering assistance such in speech, occupational and physical therapy.

“The non-for-profit organizations wanted to have a clinic or school in town that all of these children with different needs could have all of their services in one place,” said Katie Palenzuela, speech language pathologist and clinic director.

The name Will of Stone Therapeutic Learning Center was inspired by two local boys — Will Porter and Stone Wolford. Will has autism, and Stone has Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. A local nonprofit, Autism Meets Optimism, was founded in honor of Porter, and the No Stone Unturned Foundation was created in Wolford’s honor. Both of these organizations helped create the Will of Stone Therapeutic Learning Center. Mathis Rehab Centers also assisted.

At the center, therapists work together through an interdisciplinary team approach known as the “best new practice” to therapy and rehabilitation. The interdisciplinary team approach allows a group of health care professionals from different fields to work in the same place to increase levels and quality of patient care.

This new team approach not only provides cost-effective client care, but also allows for all of the services to be in one location. This can reduce medical costs and cut down on travel time and distance.

The center focuses on assisting children from as old as a few months to around middle school age who have any of a series of mental or physical disabilities. The amount of time a child attends Will of Stone depends on the severity of the disability and whether they feel the need to keep learning there.

“Every kid develops different, so our mind set is that we are going to treat each child as an individual and give them what they need at the time that they need it,” Palenzuela said.

The learning center also strives to help families while their children receive the support and therapy they need. Will of Stone holds parent support groups and provides both parent advocates who can help provide guidance and advice and individuals who coordinate with the families’ healthcare and service providers.

“We really wanted to help families access services, understand and help them through the process so they don’t feel alone,” said Melinda Wolford, co-founder and president of No Stone Unturned and Stone’s mother.

Eric Wolford, a K-State alumnus, past K-State football player and Stone’s father, was one of the reasons this therapeutic learning center developed in Manhattan. Using their university connections, the Wolfords created the fundraiser Wildcats for Charity to help raise money for the Will of Stone center.

Wildcats for Charity is a weekend event that consists of a charity auction and dinner, and a full day of golfing at the Colbert Hills Golf Course. The next Wildcats for Charity will be July 12-13. The event accepts donations, which are crucial to keeping the non-profit open.

“We need donations,” Wolford said. “We aren’t trying to make a profit; we just want to help families.”

As the learning center is in its first year, there is still room for growth. They hope to develop connections with students and research centers through K-State to improve the learning center.

“We hope to be a place where we can have student interns,” Palenzuela said. “We are hoping we can create a tight-knit relationship with Kansas State so we can provide a kind of exposure and training that up and coming providers need before they enter this field.”

With the potential for connections to be made between the center and K-State, the opportunities for idea exchange and growth are present, said Marilyn Kaff, associate professor in special education.

“I think it can do a number of different things,” Kaff said. “I see them as filling a real void in terms of providing some services and supports that aren’t as readily available in the Manhattan community.”

While many are excited for the new services, some are already looking to the future.

“We are very excited about the possibility of what could happen with Will of Stone,” Kaff said.

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