LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 4, 2018) — "Miss Jenna" started her free dance classes for kids with disabilities in high school, but she never imagined she would be directing her own nonprofit by college graduation.
A dancer herself, Jenna Lyon began offering free weekly dance classes for children with disabilities in her community of Georgetown, Kentucky, while still a teenager.
"My whole intention with the program was to offer kids with special needs the same opportunity that other kids have with dance," she said.
The class started with four students meeting every Sunday night, and it continued for two years until Lyon left for college. When she came to the University of Kentucky to study elementary education, she brought the program with her. Local studio Barbara Ann's School of Dance opened its doors to Lyon and her students.
As she attended UK, her "A Chance to Dance" program grew over the years. From Georgetown to Lexington, one class to two, one instructor to many assistants and supporters, and four students to 24.
"Sometimes I get chills of being up on stage with them or sometimes I am feeling a little choked up, looking around and seeing all of them with huge smiles."
She has made a point of teaching the classes just as any other dance class — same terminology, type of moves and challenge — but with one-on-one interaction, helping students with positioning and even adding in their favorite song or dance move for motivation.
"Originally, whenever I started the program, it was more so to teach the kids dance, but to see that what they've gotten from the class, it is so much more than just dance," she said. "They've become so much more outgoing. It's helped their communication skills, their interaction skills. I think the class has had such a bigger impact on the kids than what I had ever imagined."
In March of 2017, she reached a huge milestone with "A Chance to Dance" — she received nonprofit status, opening doors for her to apply for grants, receive more donations, allow additional students to participate and eventually expand the program to other areas.
"Gosh, if you would have asked me a couple years ago, I would have never dreamed that I would have a nonprofit, especially at this stage in my life," Lyon said.
One stage in her life — her college career — will come to a close this Sunday as she walks across the Rupp Arena stage to earn her degree in elementary education. She is already set on improving the experiences of other students.
"The type of atmosphere that I've created in my classroom … I approach it a little bit differently to make sure all kids feel welcomed and have an understanding of each other. I would love to work on mainstreaming kids with special needs into my classroom, teaching everyone to be accepting of each other."
Watch the video above to learn more about the impact Lyon has made, what drives her commitment to give all kids a chance and why we consider her a hero at UK.
And the next time you pack a theater to watch your favorite superhero blockbuster, remember that not all heroes wear red-and-gold armor, wield a hammer or carry a shield. Some heroes wear blue and white, wield a UK degree and carry a desire to make a difference in others' lives. Meet more of UK's heroes by following along on all our social channels with #heroesofUK.
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue