The Kansas City Zoo opens their ACCESSIBLE Sobela Ocean Aquarium on September 1st!

The brand new 650,000-gallon aquarium at the Kansas City Zoo is opening this Labor Day weekend. The aquarium will have more than 8,000 animals, including a sea turtle, sharks, giant Pacific octopus, sea otters, and more. It features 6 zones with more than 30 smaller exhibits and habitats, and the habitats will tell the story of how ocean currents connect animals across the globe.

Variety KC has worked on many projects in conjunction with the Kansas City Zoo, and that has helped shape new and future projects. The Kansas City Zoo considered the accessibility of viewing the animals for their guests in wheelchairs and strollers, so the viewing windows tend to be lower to the ground. There are two viewing areas reserved for guests in wheelchairs, one at Pacific Reef, and one at Sandy Shore. In addition, there is a Universal Changing Station in the new Sobela Ocean Aquarium.

Visitors will begin at the warm-water shore habitat and go “deeper” through habitats that feature mangrove forests, sandy shores, tropical lagoons, coral reefs, and the deep ocean. Visitors will then “ascend” through a kelp forest, and end at a cold-water rocky shore habitat. Each habitat will showcase a wide variety of fascinating ocean life, immersing visitors in the experience of being at the ocean, despite being in the middle of the country.

Creating a world-class aquarium is one of the most exciting projects the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium has ever embarked upon. It will be a true treasure and asset for this community that will support the Zoo’s mission to connect all people to each other and to the natural world to promote understanding, appreciation, and conservation.

The Kansas City Zoo has worked with Variety KC on many projects, making the zoo one of the most inclusive and accessible zoos in the nation!


Here’s a list of just some of the accessibility features at the Kansas City Zoo:

  • Two universal changing stations; one at Elephants and one in the new Sobela Ocean Aquarium
  • Communication boards at playgrounds
  • Quiet area in Africa section
  • Variety KC Exploration Play area in Africa section
  • Accessible parking
  • Accessible golf carts are available to take guests to that area in Africa
  • Added ramps to continue to try to make rides more accessible
  • Sensory bags available for checkout at Guest Relations
  • Sensory Friendly Kansas City Zoo mobile app
  • They are continuing to replace old pathways throughout the Zoo for better accessibility. The newest is Australia which was done this past spring, and they are currently working on accessibility of the Sea Lion Splash area to open later this fall!
  • They have started using a different type of fence that allows better viewing for guests in wheelchairs and strollers.

A HUGE thank you to the Kansas City Zoo for providing an environment that is accessible to ALL kids and ALL adults for ALL abilities.

The KC Ballet opens a new facility in Prairie Village, expanding their adaptive dance program!

The KC Ballet opens a new facility in Prairie Village, expanding their adaptive dance program!

The Variety KC team was excited to attend the Kansas City Ballet’s ribbon cutting of the state-of-the-art, $2.1M, South Campus at Meadowbrook studio. This new center has four studios and will house classes for ALL ages and ALL abilities!

With the exciting news of the new studio, the KC Ballet has plans to expand their adaptive program even more. Since the new studio will have 12,000 square feet which allows them to expand their programming to a wider range of classes for people of all ages and all skill levels.

One of the studios will be dedicated to adaptive dance, adding a complete harness system, for students with different cognitive and physical abilities. Now their adaptive dancers can move freely, all around the room!

“We’re in the business of making dreams come true for kids coming to the studio for the first time or folks coming to the studio to watch our dancers, and for folks who have special needs or adaptive needs. We will finally be able to serve them adequately, as well as give them the opportunity to dream about dance,” said KC Ballet Executive Director David Gray.

Classes for kids 2 to 19 include creative movement, pre-ballet, intermediate, and advanced, and is a comprehensive approach based on the traditions of classical ballet and prepares students for the widest spectrum of opportunities within the artistic community and professional dance world.

For each of the KC Ballet’s adaptive dance program, they each have two teachers and 1-2 assistants.

For ages 3 to 7, the class is a creative movement class that they have live, accompanied by a drummer. They begin with Brain Dance to connect the minds to our bodies and then move on to dancing around the room, learning new dance concepts, and working they fine and gross motor skills.

For ages 8 to 13, the class follows a classical ballet class structure. The students learn ballet terminology, and ballet steps at the barre and around the room.

Bolender Center Campus
Ages 3-7 10:30-11:00
Ages 3-7 11:15-11:45
Ages 8-13 12:00-12:45

South Campus at Meadowbrook
Ages 13-19 4:00-5:00
Ages 3-7 11:00-11:30
Ages 8-10 11:45-12:30

Why Dance? 5 Benefits of Dance Classes for Individuals with Disabilities from

Freedom: Dancing gives you the opportunity to let loose and tap into your body’s natural rhythm. There’s no wrong way to dance—people of all abilities are free to move in their own way. Dancing highlights the beauty of individuality and uniqueness.

Exploration: Dance allows you to explore your own strengths and talents through movement. If communicating verbally isn’t your strong suit, dancing shows you a new way to express yourself. Dance classes open a door to gaining new skills, stepping out of comfort zones, and expressing emotions that may be subconsciously suppressed.

Socialization: When attending a dance class, participants foster a connection with one another through partner work and moral support. Dancers with disabilities can transcend verbal language and use movement as communication. Dance has the ability to express what words cannot.

Empowerment: Dance creates a newfound sense of autonomy in those with disabilities. When in a safe space, such as an adaptive dance class, dancers feel empowered to move however they’d like without judgment.

Health: Dance offers a holistic approach to physical, spiritual, and mental health. Not only does it require a great deal of physical endurance, but it’s also used as an outlet to work through emotional challenges. Dancing also helps to promote strength, coordination, and balance for people with disabilities, improving overall well-being! is a non-profit organization, and United Way partner agency, serving Wisconsin’s greater Fox Valley. Covey is committed to creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities and their families. Since 1954, we have used our knowledge, compassion, and caring nature to help our clients achieve their highest potential. 

Meet the Staff – Abby

Meet the Staff – Abby

We had the opportunity to sit down with our new Chief Development Officer, Abby Martin, to learn more about the path that led her to Variety KC, her life outside of work, and her hopes for the future of Variety KC!


What is your background that led up to this position with Variety KC?

I am so proud to have a background as a Speech-Language Pathologist! Since graduating from graduate school, I have been working to serve both pediatric and adult populations who have a wide range of diagnoses and disabilities. I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings – elementary and middle schools, an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, and a pediatric outpatient private practice. At the beginning of my career, I quickly found a strong passion for supporting children using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems and began specializing in this area. There is nothing like the joy of getting to help a child find their VOICE!

I worked primarily full-time with children, and while doing so, I was lucky enough that my path led me to settings that taught me the importance of creating connections to nurture development, the significance of learning through play-based interactions and having fun together, and supporting and celebrating a child’s individual differences. These fundamentals helped to shape the therapist and person that I am today!

I absolutely love getting to work with people, building relationships with patients/clients and their families, and getting to play a part in their journey. This background has instilled in me the importance of advocating for those with individual differences and brought into focus the remarkable need for change to support the needs of children with disabilities and their families within our community.

How did you hear about Variety KC?

Well… I have a bit of a unique background experience with Variety KC! While in graduate school, I started hearing word of Variety KC from some of their projects around the Kansas City area. I immediately reached out to Deb Wiebrecht to see if there was anything I could do to get involved! I ended up working as her assistant throughout my two years of graduate school and was blown away by the magic of Variety KC. As I began my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I began referring to Variety KC as “magic little fairies” because of the remarkable support they provide to families in need. I would volunteer at events as often as I could and would assist families in writing grant applications in hopes to receive a life-changing device from Variety KC. When I heard the superhero Deb herself was retiring, I jumped at the opportunity to try to fill such big shoes and continue Variety KC’s incredible mission!

Where are you from?

I am a proud born and raised Kansas Citian! I grew up in Shawnee, KS and attended St. Thomas Aquinas for high school. I went on to Kansas State University (Go Cats!) for undergrad and then went to the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk?) for graduate school to get my Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology. After graduation, I just couldn’t leave my favorite place – I have lived in Kansas City ever since! Although I love to travel as often as I can, I love to call Kansas City my home!

What vision do you have for Variety KC?

With my background as a therapist, I am passionate about working towards providing coverage for therapy services for families within the Kansas City community. I have seen first-hand the positive impact that therapy can have on children and their families. However, I have also seen the financial strain it can often place on families. I would be honored to help lead this charge and make this dream a reality!

Did someone say “most inclusive city in the world”? LET’S DO IT! I want to continue Variety KC’s amazing journey of making the needed changes around our community to improve our world for people of ALL abilities! Also, I would love to not only do more and more incredible inclusive projects, but also create opportunities for Variety KC families to enjoy these inclusive spaces together more frequently. There is nothing like the feeling of “community”, especially within the world of special needs! Bringing children and families together, creating employment opportunities for older children with special needs, continuing to change our community and the world for the better for children of ALLl abilities – the sky’s the limit for Variety KC!

What activities do you like to do in your spare time?

I just got married in June 2022! My husband, Matthew, and I have a very handsome Goldendoodle named Bogey! We absolutely love to travel, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy our favorite places around Kansas City! I also have a little custom cookie business with my mom that I LOVE! It truly sometimes feels like we never stop moving. So, we also love to relax whenever we get the chance!

Thank you for taking the time to learn about me! I have loved sharing a little more about myself with you and look forward to continuing to connect with you all at Variety KC events! Let’s keep this #inclusionrevolution moving forward!!

Meet the Staff – Marc

Meet the Staff – Marc

We sat down with our new Chief Inclusion Officer, Marc Harrell, and found out what has led him to Variety KC, his background, and what vision he has for the future of Variety KC. Here’s what Marc had to say!


What is your background that led up to this position with Variety KC?

I was born and raised in Wichita, KS, and attended Southeast High School. After graduation, I attended the University of Kansas and received my B.S. in Journalism. I had always wanted a legal education, so I applied to law schools and decided to attend Creighton University. After a few months, that dreaded first bill came and it woke me up. I never wanted to practice law, but rather just found the education to be invaluable. I don’t think it dawned on me the amount of debt for a career path that I didn’t intend to use, so I quickly withdrew from law school, got my money back, and needed a big change!


What was that big change?

I always considered myself a “Big City Boy,” so was deciding between Los Angeles and New York City. I knew one person in LA, so off I went.


What did you do in LA?

After arriving, I found a job in the industry that my education was in (Advertising) and started working for the LA Weekly and OC Weekly, who at that time was owned by Village Voice Media. I was the assistant for the Entertainment Accounts Director and handled all the Broadway shows, touring shows, concerts, one man/woman shows, etc. I was 22 and had access to all the major events in LA and it was incredible.


What made you leave?

When you’re young, you are invincible and think you will always have every opportunity in front of you. I wanted more money and more opportunities career-wise, so I left for Northern California for a start-up. Quickly, I realized that wasn’t going to make it, so I moved back to the Midwest and settled in KC.


What was appealing about Kansas City?

At that time, KC wasn’t “home,” but it was a bigger city than Wichita and I thought it would be a pit-stop until I got back to a big city. LA was great for that time in my life, but I didn’t love it, and it didn’t feel like a big city to me. I loved the Midwest people and I assumed I would end up in Chicago, but here I am 25 years later, and I couldn’t imagine leaving.


Why not?

In Kansas City, you have so much going on with so many different areas. We have culture, we have land and space, we have a great restaurant scene, great sports teams, great arts, and so much more. In big cities, you tend to have to sacrifice something (smaller house, no yard, no transportation, etc.) but in KC, you can have it all and still be only 2.5 hours (roughly) from any city in the US!


What career did you land on in KC?

Staying in my advertising field, and with my print background, it was a natural progression to start working in Radio Broadcasting. Over 20 years ago, I started working for Viacom Media (CBS) who owned four powerful radio stations in KC. I started as an Account Executive, worked my way up into management, and since 2009, have served as the VP/Market Manager for these same properties!


How did you first hear about Variety KC?

Earlier in my career at the radio stations, the GM at the time sat on the Variety Board of Directors. This would have been my first exposure, and then eventually, one of my stations was hosting a radiothon for Variety KC. At that time, there was hardly any awareness of Variety or the work they were doing. I think there was even less of an awareness of the special needs community and just how difficult it was to navigate the community with any type of disability.

Then, years later, Deb Weibrecht was hired, and she came to talk to me. I had taken over the radio stations by this time, and we had stopped doing the radiothon. She asked if I would consider putting it back on the air. At that time, the answer was “no.” But not for the reasons most think. Specifically, I knew that Variety had to be branded, their mission had to be defined, and it had to be explained relatively easy because you don’t have a long time to explain it. I even pointed out to Deb that I didn’t understand why the name “Variety,” and that somehow, we had to tie it to the charity. That was when we developed, “helping a variety of kids with a variety of special needs in a variety of ways.” Deb did her job, and followed through, and a few years later, we had the radiothon back on the air.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I was asked to serve on the Board which I agreed, and then became Vice President, and most recently served as President for a couple of years.

What keeps you passionate about Variety KC?

I have been passionate about the special needs community since grade school. I used to step in and defend and stop any bullying that occurred to any special needs child in school. This always stuck out to me. I don’t know why, but ever since I was a kid, I used to tell my parents that I wanted 2 kids of my own, and then for my third kid, I would adopt a special needs child. I still don’t know why that popped in my head at such a young age.

All these years later, I only have furry kids, but am still passionate about special needs kids. I think I’ve always had a heart for the person(s) that is marginalized and/or discriminated against. Some would say it’s the “underdogs,” but I think it’s a human right for all people to have the same opportunities in life. That can look many ways, but all differences should be celebrated. Differences are what make all of us beautiful, individual, and unique!

I will continue to fight for any group that does not have the same rights, opportunities, or is denied anything that is offered to someone else!


What vision do you have for Variety KC?

We have been handed an amazing organization that has catapulted the special needs community to the front and center of Kansas City, and I don’t take that lightly. I look at all the progress achieved in a relatively short amount of time, and my vision is to keep all this momentum moving forward and create more opportunities for kids of all capabilities.

My first goal is to set up some infrastructure and systems that anyone can step into and continue the process of progressing the inclusion of all throughout the community. We plan on establishing databases, writing some policies, updating the website, and just take this organization to the next level as far as the policies needed to run a successful organization. It is my goal to make Variety KC be THE place to work in Kansas City!

We plan on launching a Variety Hero campaign with our 2024 fiscal year, where we will be asking for people to become a Variety Hero by giving monthly. We are looking at expanding our grant applications to include out-of-pocket reimbursement on therapies for our Variety Kids. We have created so many adaptive play areas and sporting fields in Kansas City that I feel it’s time to organize various levels of sports leagues and teams to take adaptive sports to the next level. I feel that the arts is so important in the development of a child on many levels such as physical fitness, health, social aspects, self-esteem, etc. and we want to look at various programs from dance to choir and more. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, we might work on a community center that would be 100% adaptive and provide a safe place for kids of all levels to come together for fitness, sports, recreation, and therapies.

What activities do you like in your spare time?

Obviously, there’s a lot on my plate, so when I do get some down time, I tend to do nothing of too much substance. LOL I am an avid brainless TV watcher (all things Bravo)! My husband and I have an amazing addiction to travel, and not having kids has allowed us to be able to travel the world and experience as much of life as we can. I’m a cyclist, although I need to get back on the bike this year! I love to play with our dogs, Isabella, and Tanner, both border collie rescues. And, when it’s hot out, you can see us by the pool or at the lake (Grand Lake in Oklahoma) to relax and unwind.

Meet the Staff – Ali

Meet the Staff – Ali

Today we are sitting down with our new Community Liaison Officer, Ali O’Grady, to talk about her family and the path that has brought her to Variety KC! Here is what Ali had to say!

Ogrady family portrait

What is your background that led up to this position with Variety KC?

Mom. I always tell people that after Mom and Wife, Variety Parent is the title I am most proud to have. I am a mom to two sweet kids, Blakey, 6, and Henry 4.5.

The longer answer is a bit more complex. My husband, Jordan, and I both grew up in Overland Park and attended the University of Kansas where I received both my undergrad and master’s degree in Elementary Education. I have always known at an early age that I wanted to work with kids and envisioned myself being a tenured teacher by now. However, after our daughter was born, I left the classroom to stay home to care for her. Just as my husband and I began to have conversations about me returning to work, I found out I was expecting our son Henry.

Shortly after Henry was born we noticed some things that concerned us. During those first few years I felt like my husband and I mourned the death of a million dreams for our family. It felt as though every missed milestone was replaced with questions and unknowns. Despite the difficult path that laid before us, my husband and I noticed one consistency, which was Variety KC. Whether it was the parks we frequented, the sensory bags readily available to us, the “henry sized” changing tables we could use, or just the positive messaging Variety KC was spreading; Variety gave our family opportunities to be social, be active and belong. In 2020 Variety generously gave our Henry an adaptive bike. I don’t remember who was there or what was said, but I remember how my heart felt as a mom. Being able to give my child their first bike is a core memory every parent should be able to have regardless of their child’s mobility needs. From there, my never-ending love and appreciation for everything Variety has done to include my son in our world is what has led me to this new chapter in my life.

Ali and Henry at Disney World

What keeps you passionate about Variety KC?

Change. Change can be like slow drips in a bucket, or it can be like a tidal wave. I think in the early days of Variety KC, the changes were small and the impact went relatively unnoticed by outsiders. Families within the special needs community knew the changes were happening, but Variety wasn’t making a splash yet.

However, through the years and through countless advocates in the form of parents, children, elected officials, business owners and of course Deb Weibrecht, Variety has picked up pace and has become a leader within Kansas City. When the position for Community Liaison Officer was first discussed, I knew that I wanted to play my part in turning Kansas City into the “most inclusive city in the country,” for my own son. The ultimate gift I could give my child is the opportunity to feel included in his own community. My passion and excitement come not only from the changes I see in our Kansas City community, but also from the life changing communication and mobility opportunities we are able to give children individually through grants.

Blakey and Henry posing in pirate hats

What vision do you have for Variety KC?

We didn’t come this far, to come this far. Variety has seen tremendous success, but there are still so many avenues to pursue. Families with special needs shouldn’t feel confined to a certain set of activities or venues due to inadequate basic inclusive features. We must continue outfitting more public restrooms with universal changing stations and ensuring facilities have ADA ramps thoughtfully located inside/outside (many times ramps are out of the way of the way therefore creating a longer path for people in wheelchairs or walkers). These two things alone would positively enhance a family’s accessibility and freedom. Looking bigger, we have discussed the idea of being able to support families in their child’s therapy costs. One of the biggest realizations I have had as a parent of a child with special needs is that insurance often falls short of properly supporting your child’s therapy needs. Families spend thousands of dollars (yearly, monthly, sometimes weekly) out of pocket to cover the gap in coverage. Being able to take that burden from a family is immeasurable.

I am also super excited about the opportunity to introduce regular “family playdates.” I am a strong believer there is power in community. We’ve built beautiful parks across town and built awesome partnerships with so many local businesses and want to bring our Variety Family together regularly to celebrate our successes and grow our connection with YOU!

Ali, Jordan, and Blakey posing for Blakeys last day of kindergarten

What activities do you like in your spare time?

I LOVE family time! Spending time with my two kids and husband is my most favorite thing in the world. I think a lot of moms will be able to relate, but on the weekends it’s easier to entertain your family when you are out doing things and have planned activities. So most weekends we are out and about enjoying all of our favorite spots around town. Lately we’ve also really gotten into travel. Thanks in part to the new Kansas City Airport, it is easier to travel as a family. Through trial and error we’ve become pretty good at planning trips that fit our family’s needs and offer activities both of our kids love.

I have loved getting to share a bit about myself and my family. I can not tell you how excited I am to begin this journey and continue Variety’s #inclusionrevolution!

Feel the Variety Kc Mission

At Variety KC, we know that kids with special needs have no seasonal needs. The population we serve didn’t need less during the pandemic, and in fact they needed more! As a result, last year or so was an extra busy one for Variety and our #inclusionrevolution. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • We launched the KC Inclusion Revolution, an initiative to help businesses understand the importance of including all kids in our community. If you would like a Variety representative to come talk to your business or help you to launch inclusive efforts, just contact us at Let’s build a stronger community by involving the entire community!

  • WyCo: Plans are in place for Legends Stadium and their drive to offer a more inclusive experience including a Variety KC all inclusive playground, sensory kits, accessible parking signs and more. The plans are attached!

  • Northland: Another nationwide first! Variety KC is partnering with Sporting KC at the new northland sports complex to create the first Power Soccer Field Outdoors AND Variety KC inclusive playground in the same complex. Power Soccer is traditionally played in power wheelchairs and always indoors on a gym floor or basketball court. What Variety KC is building is an outdoor field – one less “difference” between traditional and adaptive play. That’s true inclusion. The complex is amazing, check it out at

  • Variety KC Sensory Kits are gaining ground. This year we added Wonderscope Children’s Museum (where we built an inclusive treehouse), Children’s Mercy Hospital, Starlight Theatre, B&B Theatres nationwide, and – we outfitted 300 area police patrol cars with sensory kits to help them to better serve our communities.

  • What better way to introduce travelers to our inclusive city than through the Variety KC Inclusive Play Zone at the New KCI International Airport.  (Opening Spring 2023) This area allows kids to decompress before getting on a flight, and after arriving at KCI. Parents today are far more likely to travel with kids, making it a comfortable experience for everyone will result in a better flight for all. After all, doesn’t every child deserve to travel and explore?

Variety KC partnered with Starlight Theatre to make sure they were equipped with inclusive tools to reopen and include all people of all abilities in the arts!

  • One of the most impactful ways to reach a large audience and introduce our  “hidden population” is through film. The New Variety KC Documentary will do just that!

  • We hit this one out of the park! As Variety started to build inclusive play areas, we installed communication boards to help all kids communicate with each other, their caregivers, and friends-in-the-making. We discovered that Sign Language Boards engaged even more kids and encouraged them to “talk” with one another. To date we have 20 KCMO Parks equipped with these boards – come try them out!

This year we were honored to be recognized by the following:

  • Nonprofit Connect honored our marketing and branding efforts with a Silver Philly Award.

  • International Variety honored Randi Mahomes with the coveted International Variety Presidential Award.

  • And we are proud to announce we once again achieved the Top-Rated Non-profit Award.

  • The NWSL (the new women’s soccer league in KC) selected Variety KC as the first recipient of their community giving campaign.

And this is just the start!

Follow us on social media to see the KC Inclusion Revolution at work and read our blogs at for a closer look at individual children we impact through generous donors and volunteers. And contact us to join the #kcinclusionrevolution – because of people like you, our community is rapidly becoming known as the most inclusive community in the country.