The special needs rec center announced its plans to expand at its recent gala.
| Story by Sascha Mills | Photos by Sascha Mills & Kathryn Deen |
Central Florida Dreamplex is so much more than a recreation and fitness center.
It’s a beautiful mission field that brings wellness, community and athletics to those with special needs. Or, as they describe it, “Ordinary sports for extraordinary people.”
Research shows that getting out, getting active and getting involved can increase overall wellness and prosperity.
But Amy Gomes recognized what a challenge that can be for many with disabilities. Stepping into the home-based pediatric physical therapy business in 1991 opened her eyes to the matter.
She sadly watched some of her clients grow into adulthood isolated, unemployed and sedentary.
This struck a cord with her heart. In 2009, she established the 501(c)(3) Central Florida Pediatric Therapy Foundation as a home-based therapy providing speech, occupational and physical therapy.
During this time, Amy’s son, Cameron Gomes, was working at Lockheed Martin and sought a more fulfilling and purpose-driven career. Together, Amy and Cameron developed the idea of bringing a fitness center to Clermont that would cater to those with special needs.
Cameron publicly thanked his mother for turning their idea into a reality during his speech at the sixth annual Dreamplex Gala in September at the Clermont Performing Arts Center.
In early 2010, the Central Florida Dreamplex became an umbrella LLC of the Central Florida Pediatrics Therapy Foundation and moved in 2015 to its current facility, 2400 S. Highway 27 Suite B201 at the top of the Clermont Hillside Terrace, near Graffiti Junktion, Arthur Murray and The Dream Academy, which partners with the Dreamplex for after school activities.
The Central Florida Dreamplex offers an amazing array of activities. Besides the aforementioned after school program, the facility has arts and crafts, nerf archery, gymnastics and cheerleading, cardio boxing, Tae Kwon Do and various dance activities including ballet, hip hop, ballroom-style and Zumba. Many parents are thrilled to have this opportunity in the community, such as the Harper family, who lives within 10 minutes of the facility.
Another proud parent, Sarah Klosterman, raved about her daughter Kylie’s involvement with the Central Florida Dreamplex. Kylie began therapy at 3 months old and began sports with The Central Florida Dreamplex at age 3, having now participated in cheerleading for two seasons. Sarah noted that Kylie has grown immensely with the Dreamplex staff’s effort to see her succeed.
“Every child of all abilities is welcomed. The pure joy on the children’s faces when they finally get to participate in activities is priceless. Everyone should be included no matter what challenges they face, and the Dreamplex embraces that and makes everyone feel like family.” –Sarah Klosterman
It is not surprising that the Dreamplex is quickly outgrowing its current location. However, they have found partners in the community. For instance, Dreamplex utilizes Real Life Church’s gym for basketball practice and Montverde Academy’s fields for soccer practice. The organization continues to expand its activities for those with physical disabilities.
These are considered adaptive sports, which J. Nicholas Pierre knows a thing or two about. The child uses a prosthetic swim flipper or running leg, depending on his sport that day. He showed off some moves, jokes and adaptive equipment at the gala.
Isabella Matos also took the stage at the gala. She encouraged the audience with her words of advice: “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do in your life. Your ability will always be stronger than your disability.” Isabella has won over 16 medals in track and field and is determined to qualify for the Paralympic Games.
The gala is one of two annual fundraisers by the Dreamplex. The other is a small festival at Lake Catherine Blueberries’ farm with a hometown feel.
The gala’s cocktail hour was hosted by Calloway Roofing with a “JuJu Bar” in honor of the Calloway family’s daughter, who participates at the Dreamplex.
For the main event, the performance hall’s walls where draped in a starlight tapestry.
The Dreamplex’s Boy Scout Troop escorted guests to their tables. Meredith McDonough, co-anchor of WESH 2 News, emceed the evening. From there, the night came alive with performances, videos and inspirational speakers. Also, co-host William Petty, a Dreamplex member, stole the hearts of the audience with his charming personality and snazzy light-up sneakers.
“You know both Sara Evans and the Dreamplex were born to fly.” –William Petty
One of the highlighted stories of the night was from the Bermudez family. Mother of two Hidalina shared that they have been with the Dreamplex for eight years since her daughter, Amalia, was born with Down Syndrome and the Dreamplex has been an answer to her prayers.
“There is a famous saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ The Dreamplex is that place for me. A place where hope is found, faith restored and prayers answered. I have seen my daughter progress so much, especially with her walking. Amalia was using a wheelchair from age 3 until 7, when she took her first solo step. The Dreamplex is my second home. The therapists, the front desk, the administrator, the entire staff is welcoming and approachable. I have seen little ones reach their milestones. I have shared tears of joy with other parents and guardians when they witness seeing their little ones meet their goals. I’m forever grateful for meeting a great place where my daughter gets the therapy she needs and for building a family friendship with the staff. Thank you, Dreamplex!” –Hidalina Bermudez
As the gala came to a close, it had one more incredible gift for those in attendance. Renowned country singer Sara Evans took the stage.
Young and old danced, cheered and enjoyed the intimate concert.
“Stronger” especially struck a chord among the crowd after hearing the stories of those touched by the Dreamplex’s stories.
Dreamplex Board Member Charles Broadway, chief of the Clermont Police Department, shared, “It’s an honor to serve with like-minded board members who are passionate and committed to giving back to children and adults with developmental disabilities to ensure they have every opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life.”
The need is greater still though. With wonderful contributions from multiple sponsors such as Lakeridge Winery, Kalos Services the Harper Family Foundation and many others, the Dreamplex has been able to make big things happen.
But the Dreamplex is dreaming bigger, reaching for the stars and aiming to spread out across Central Florida. Executive Director Cameron Gomes pointed out that the Dreamplex is the only one of its kind, and it is a long haul for a family living in East Orlando or Sanford to make the drive to Clermont daily for therapy and sports. So satellite locations are in the works. Plus, by 2020, he hopes to have a larger facility in the Wellness Way Area Plan.
Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks described the Wellness Way area plan as a development site for an inspirational community in South Lake County that would set itself apart from the suburbs. This community will establish a desire to build generation-after-generation homes. Commissioner Parks says people will want to call South Lake home because of its unique appeal to health and wellness qualities. Also, increased unique and specialized opportunities for employment will attract top professionals in the fields of health and wellness. The plan is to have the whole area health oriented with multiple employment opportunities for all in the community and a place that is walkable and welcoming.
Sean was introduced to Amy Gomes and the Dreamplex through mutual friends Jenny and Jeff Banker.
“I went to the first banquet and was hooked,” the Commissioner said. “It’s awesome. It is wonderful for the community. It defines what the Wellness Way area plan is all about.”
The Dreamplex has stepped in and filled a need. It has become a second home and family for those who have children or family members involved in their programs. It is a place of community and is setting up Clermont as an active community for those with special needs, too.
If this mission has touched your heart, there are many ways to get involved.
- Sponsorships are available, including monthly sponsorships for individual children for $20-50 a month.
- You can volunteer as a coach, lead a troop or team, be buddy or be a one-on-one supporter during class and on stage.
Whatever your personal gift, don’t wait to jump in and be a part of this amazing center in the heart of our community.
“This is a unique year-round place for belonging, comfort and connection to the community, a place of not feeling alone, where sharing of resources and ideas for families can happen.” –Cameron Gomes
Sascha Mills is editorial assistant of Clermont Magazine, a mother, a certified health and essential oils coach, an actress with Moonlight Players, and a lover of writing, vino, yoga, Beautiful Hearts and community.