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Training Wheels create+educate+motivate+recreate

Training Wheels is an inspirational inclusive space for children (0-10) of ALL abilities to learn, play, & grow with their family.

Photo of Downside Up Inc.
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

I really only decided to send this in today, not realizing it was the actual due date. I wish I had used all your amazing resources, tool kits, and mentors. This opportunity and everything you all do is extraordinary. The ideas already entered are so innovative and exciting. I have been working on Training Wheels for about a year, so it has evolved a bit throughout as I gain insight from others and knowledge about the business side of ideas. I have met with a multitude of other parents within the community to get feedback and a feel for the need of such a space. Through research and the experience of Camp Wakawalu, the space is needed in our community for new parents, children, and families alike.

Name or Organization

Downside Up, Inc. Theresa Nix (CEO)


We are located in Chattanooga, TN. Chattanooga is a unique city in that it is 2 hours from Knoxville, Atlanta, and Nashville. We are centrally located and are able to help a large range of people.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Training Wheels is a project championed by Downside Up Inc. It’s mission is to create opportunities within the area where children can Create, Educate, Motivate, and Recreate. Training Wheels will provide a clean, safe, and stimulating environment that promotes physical, artistic, musical, and educational growth for all children 0-10 years old in a space that encourages family development and connects them with resources necessary to grow, thrive, and inspire community acceptance.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Chattanooga is already ahead of the curve with trampoline parks, discovery museums, outdoor/indoor climbing facilities, pedestrian trails, bike paths, aquariums and a zoo. While all these contribute to active child development within a blossoming climate for education, there is not one place within a 100 mile radius that combines play with the previously mentioned elements for under-served populations to include the disabled demographic. The need for a program that fosters healthy and inclusive communities is great.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Network: Connecting people with each other to enhance the reach or effectiveness of new or existing resources.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Training Wheels aims to unite our community. When I started Downside Up, I wanted it to be a family for families who have loved ones with Down syndrome, because when you have a child with a disability you feel like you are on an island. The more people I met, the more I realized how many feel this way. But it wasn't only parents who have children with a disability -- all parents expressed the need for support and to feel connected, so I wanted to create a place where you could sit down, have a conversation and a cup of coffee while your children played in an really cool environment. A place where you could do some super messy art with your family, experiment with all types of musical instruments, check out a toy from the toy library, get tutoring or physical therapy or take a yoga class with your kid.... there are endless possibilities really. The service is to provide a space that every kid can enjoy whether they are in a wheelchair, have Down syndrome, or are typically developing and where parents can feel supported and meet other parents/families in our area. Every parent I have spoken to about this idea is extremely excited about being able to sit down with other moms or dads while their kids play in an inspiring safe place. Our cafe within the space would employ adults with disabilities. Not only would Training Wheels provide an opportunity for families in the Chattanooga area to bond, but it would promote inclusion in every aspect of its being.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

In Chattanooga, there are indoor areas that are for families, there are art spaces, there are music spaces, there are outdoor playgrounds, there are cafes, and there are tutoring/therapy facilities, but there is not one that does it all. Training Wheels would not only do it all, but be designed to make everyone feel welcome. Full inclusion at its very best and most inspiring.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Training Wheels requires approximately 7,000-10,000 square feet of space to develop a facility for children to interact, explore, think, play, create, and learn. This size is estimated to be sufficient for accommodating a music room, an art studio, a library & research center, an indoor gym, a cafe & kitchen, a store, and an outdoor play area. The outdoor play area will follow the 7 Principles of Inclusive Play Design: Be Fair, Be Included, Be Smart, Be Independent, Be Safe, Be Active, and Be Comfortable. These seven principles, as detailed by the Me2 program, are in line with our shared philosophy that focuses on planning inclusion for the whole child, the whole environment, and the whole community. TW is expected to be located in downtown Chattanooga, as close to the city center as possible, inside a renovated warehouse. It is also close enough to Knoxville, Atlanta, and Nashville to attract families from those areas with an end toward sustainability as a cost-effective option for health conscious families and inclusive play activities at a sliding scale. Also known as The Scenic City, Chattanooga hosts a variety of other tourist attractions (to include the IMAX theatre, Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Incline Railway) that draw more and more families each year. Recent data from the Census Bureau expects the Chattanooga area to consistently grow in population as it is ranked one of the country's best towns for families. Crucial to the TW project is the concept of capacity building in order to help build a society that includes and values people with disabilities. TW also seeks to build a level of capacity within the disabled community throughout Chattanooga and its surrounding areas in order to better serve individuals with disabilities and their families. TW is exclusive in this regard as it seeks to identify more efficient uses of play and learning technology. Through collaborative effort with community partners contributing to the project’s success and it’s strength to fulfill its mission over time, TW will leave a positive, inclusive impact on the Greater Chattanooga area.With thoughtful planning and programming, outdoor play environments can provide the perfect setting to create awareness, break down barriers, and foster friendships between children of all ages.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The need for a program that fosters healthy and inclusive communities is great. While a precise census of children with Down syndrome in the area is unknown, Hamilton county, the largest school district in Chattanooga, is home to 49,380 disabled comprising over 16% of the area’s total population. And while Chattanooga has more than 40 playgrounds and fitness zones, according to Chattanooga's Park Maintenance director, only two playgrounds in the city, Ross’s Landing Playground and Signal Centers Therapeutic Playground for the Arts, are designed to be fully inclusive. While disability is a natural part of the human experience, it should in no way diminish a child’s right to fully participate in all aspects of childhood, including play. Disability is often mistakenly understood as a child’s inability to experience the play environment because of limitations caused by their disability. But it isn’t their disability that stands in the way of this. The fault lies in the environment that has not been properly designed to provide recreation to a wider context of users. Through Camp Wakawalu and a variety of community activities such as the Buddy Walk and the Dash for DS, I have lived life with my beneficiaries. I am on the journey with them, and we are a growing community creating awareness and appreciation of differences, blazing trails for children of all abilities, and holding each other up along the way.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Play is fundamental to child development and building a happy, healthy society. As opportunities for meaningful play are often limited for children with disabilities, inclusively designed play environments, programs, and services are critical to creating a community that values everyone. Community playgrounds are natural settings where children select activities to participate in as well as peers with whom to socially interact. Building an area with access for children of all (dis)abilities and (dis)advantages increases Chattanooga’s inclusive environment by 300% and will further create an atmosphere that fosters togetherness. Another way impact will be measured is through social interaction and play based on entrance rates and relationships formed around the inclusively designed environment. Surveys designed to educate through inclusion and track interaction with the disabled community will be a vital metric for evaluation. But contact among children with different abilities is often not enough to get children independently playing together or to create true meaningful play experiences. This is why we will also design programs that raise awareness to our cause. High quality inclusive programs include access, support, and participation by using a variety of instructional approaches to promote engagement of play and learning activities to create a sense of belonging for every child. IMPACT: By 2023, we hope to bring our camps and Training Wheels to Nashville and Knoxville.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Training Wheels would be accessible to all children and parents -- affordable and open to families who need support & a community. Through my years in education, I have a multitude of teacher friends who have either retired or stepped out of the profession to tutor on their own. They are always looking for an affordable space to help children in the summer and after school. This would definitely be a place for that as well as scholarship funded camps in the summer for art, music, or a sport. The toy library would also alleviate the expense of buying toys that may not be used for long or make therapy tools available that insurance may not pay for.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Above shows the art area, music section, cafe/party spot, library/tutoring space, indoor play and outdoor play areas, and the toy library.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

In order for our project to be sustainable, we would need to serve at least 82 children, daily. Aside from the expected 200 families we serve at Camp Wakawalu each year, TW has a unique capacity to provide families with daily activities. According to recent Census Bureau statistics, there are just under 37,000 children (aged 18 and under) living in Hamilton County. The nearest schools to our location comprise 24% of this number (9,159 elementary aged students). Planning on use by just 25 of these students per day can help us achieve our goal. Due to the nature of the TW program, we intend to offer the space for after school programs, birthday parties and other private events. Our calculations show that at least 115 out of 23,000 children (age 10 and under) will have a birthday during any given week of the year, and if just one child hosts their birthday at TW’s Play & Learn Center, we estimate that an average of 600 children (not including their families) will use the play area per week. Following the example of the weekly estimates, if just one child a month hosts a birthday party with TW, per year, we can expect the number to rise to 720. Downside Up Inc. also hosts Camp Wakawalu for 200 families each year. These numbers combined raise the estimated minimum per year usage to 920 (not including all other students from surrounding schools).

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We have a board for Downside Up and a team of community leaders who are working on aspects of the idea in their field of expertise. We are doing a lot more planning than getting it going it seems at the moment, but all great things take time. Once the plans take flight, we have contractors, landscapers, carpenters, painters, and a multitude of volunteers to do the build out and create the magic. The goal for successful implementation, Training Wheels will be operated on a full-time basis, as a fully- functional business, with the goal of being a sustainable fundraising arm of Downside Up Inc., complete with memberships and entry fees at a sliding scale. According to our calculations, any loans will be repaid in full within five years after opening based on payment plans and expected entry rates. I, Theresa Nix (founder of Downside Up Inc. & Camp Wakawalu) plan to take on the role of manager. In addition, all member-managers will actively assist in the business aspects of TW on a part-time basis. Parents will be the primary supervisors, however, a variety of licensed teachers, volunteer students, certified coaches, etc. will be assisting at different times throughout the year to teach and to learn, or to observe as part of a volunteer program created in partnership with local area schools (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga State, Covenant College, Lee University, Bryan College). Presently, I am feverishly trying to write grants and gain support from businesses in the community. I would rather not take out loans if at all possible, so I will continue to send in proposals and hope for the best as I continue to learn through other non-profit leaders in my area.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Our idea seems relatively realistic and has the pieces for success, but I am a teacher and a dreamer, so I'm looking at it through a different lens. Chattanooga is exploding with construction, new people, and creative ideas. It is a city that loves uniting people and taking care of families, so I feel like this is a place where Training Wheels in needed and will be a success. As a non-profit, I really just want us to help as many families as we can, and in doing that I believe people will support us in one way or another.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

I included this at the top, but I think it gives a good video representing the type of fun and the type of people Training Wheels will be about. I have only spoken with a variety of parents and attended a multitude of business start up information meetings, but I have no surveys or prototypes. I wish I had taken advantage of all of your resources before today. I would love to have a party with a similar set up to what the space would provide and see what feedback I would get. From my research of other places around the world that have a lot of the same qualities, they are very successful and are helping many families in their areas --Extreme Kids and Crew (NY), Play Cafe (all over), KinderCafe (Germany), Rock the Spectrum, AMuseUm (TN). Although all of these have some aspects of my design, none have everything I want in Training Wheels.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Downside Up Inc., is a parent-directed non-profit organization providing support, education, and encouragement for families of children with Down syndrome. It was created after my son, Everett, entered the world with a little something extra. His Down syndrome (DS) diagnosis turned my life upside down, but through support from family, friends, and community, my husband and I have chosen to live downside up. The organization is modeled after this philosophy. This one life has opened our eyes to that of so many others. According to research conducted in 2008, 1 out of every 1,200 people (children, teens, and adults) living in the United States had been diagnosed with DS. This means, in that same year, roughly 250,700 children, teens, and adults were living with DS in the United States. Updated data since then has not yet been thoroughly compiled, but Downside Up Inc. was created as a response to the growing number of families in need of support throughout the Tennessee Valley. Our first program, Camp Wakawalu, is a testament to this pressing matter. Back again for its third year, Camp Wakawalu (scheduled for May 4-6, 2018) is the first family camp of its kind in Chattanooga that brings together children who have DS and their families for a weekend away. The camp allows families to take a break from day-to-day stresses, while building relationships with other families experiencing the same challenges. We hosted the first camp after receiving the Causeway Challenge grant, and its success led us to receiving a $5000 community grant from Ironman the following year. Through the success of our first program, we’ve learned that stepping out of our everyday lives brings us closer together. We’ve also come to appreciate the vital role play has in building stronger communities. Both outcomes speak directly to Downside Up Inc.’s goals for the Training Wheels (TW) project: 1) to be a fundraising arm that builds capacity within our organization while 2) creating more opportunities to play for families within the Greater Chattanooga area. About me... I have been a teacher for almost 20 years. Teaching everything from PreK to college English, elementary art, PE, Health, K-12 Gifted Education, middle/high school English has given me a wide range of experiences. I have taught in private, public, city, and rural schools and now I am a mom of a child with an IEP, so I know a little about all sides. Teaching has been a huge part of my life, but now I want to use all my experience to create a space that brings the fun back into learning for all kids. Something about creativity, getting messy, and learning by doing has taken a back seat to paperwork. Training Wheels can be an inspiring environment where parents can learn with their children. I imagine a Willy Wonka meets Dr. Seuss with a little splash of Reggio/Montessori experience. I have researched a variety of spaces across the globe, and I am taking what I like from those to create the perfect recipe.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We have spoken with PlayCore in Chattanooga who did a budget and a rendering of our outdoor and indoor playgrounds for us. They are based here, so we can also get a bit of a discount on inclusive play equipment. We have a few education groups we are in contact with, so that will help. Also, many teachers & former educators as well as college PT & SPED students will be beneficial to our progress. Any play equipment, therapy tools, art supplies, or educational software partners would be helpful

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

It is too late for me to collaborate:( I wish I had started this process earlier --- it is really wonderful how you set it up that so many innovators can help each other!!

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters) [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

I am sorry I missed this part of the process.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.


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