Earlier this week, I toured the new B.E. Smith Family Center at AdventHealth. I was excited to see the Variety KC Compass system, the first full-facility installation of a harness system by Enliten (the founder of Enliten, Ralph Cope, was on hand to explain the engineering and development of this system.)

It’s hard to describe the system; harnesses of various sizes that safely hold children in an upright position for therapy. The harnesses run along ceiling tracks, so the child can move freely throughout the area and stop at various workstations and play areas. There are 3,000 square feet covered by the track system and up to 28 kids, and therapists can be using the system at any given time. Those are the basic facts. It gets impressive when you add the kids!  Remember, these are kids who don’t generally experience life in an upright position. What happens when they are securely strapped in and experience movement and activity from this new viewpoint? (For one thing, a little brother can truly hug his big sister for the first time…)

With tears in her eyes, one proud mother described how her son took his first attempt at walking in the Variety KC Compass, then tried it on his own the next day at home! (Last night, he was running around the room!) Other parents chimed in on the changes they are seeing and their excitement over their kiddos’ new accomplishments and attempts. Turns out, kids feel empowered and are more eager to try new things once they’ve had a taste of independence and esteem building accomplishments.

One of the Physical Therapists, Julie, told of a young fellow who got moving on the system and stretched it to its limits trying to leave the room. I chuckled a bit until Julie pointed out that for a child totally depended on others for mobility, the opportunity to head off on his own was something he had never been able to do. Amazing! Julie, like most therapists, impressed me with her MacGyver type methods of maximizing the system. As I walked into one room, they had a child giggling and swinging in a hammock type nest suspended by two of the harness attachments. They’ve already figured out how to work on crawling skills by adapting the harness for the child on all fours. It’s hard NOT to catch their contagious excitement for this new therapy tool – and it’s really hard not to choke up when you see the kids using it.

From a therapist’s point of view, the system offers so many benefits:

  1. It’s safer for the child
  2. It’s easier for therapists to keep a child (especially one over 40 pounds) in an upright position, freeing their hands to conduct various therapies.
  3. It’s safer for therapists and caregivers who are prone to injury from lifting children.
  4. It is a fantastic boost for development! Being upright helps digestion, reduces constipation, strengthens muscles, improves balance.
  5. And…my favorite, both parents and therapists observed cognitive gains and an increase in happy behavior from kids using this system.

And above all… it’s the giggles! The jumping! The dancing! The absolute joy on the faces of these children as they discover the wonder of movement. I don’t say this lightly, it was awe-inspiring.

Variety KC first introduced the Enliten Harness System through portable units used throughout the area. This was the largest installation to date – and a first for both Enliten and Kansas City. That’s right…here…at the B.E. Smith Family Center…these kids are the first to benefit from this therapy-changing approach.

I had never realized just how fortunate we are to have Variety KC as our city’s champion for kids with special needs. I’ve lived in other communities served by Variety – and they are all wonderful! But, here in KC – Variety KC doesn’t just provide inclusive equipment and opportunities for our community, they seek out innovative ways to expand inclusive experiences for our kids. They challenge the norm!  As a result, we are blessed to have the Variety Compass System at the new B.E. Smith Family Center – and can only hope it inspires other cities to “harness the potential” of these systems for their communities.

Lorri Stanislav, Variety Fan