She Rocks the Spectrum
Dina Kimmel has turned her lifelong entrepreneurial drive into child’s play.
by Julie Bien
Dina Kimmel, a self-described “granola girl,” grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains but eventually found her way down to the San Fernando Valley. For the past 22 years, Kimmel has been a successful businesswoman — owning and operating a variety of stores in the Valley, including 15 years as owner of Lucky You, a resale clothing store. The inspiration for her newest business venture, We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym (http://www.werockthespectrumkidsgym.com/), was her son, Gabriel.
In 2009, Gabriel, now 4 years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Kimmel, who also has a young daughter, was overwhelmed with everything she had to juggle — running a business, caring for her children and spending up to 40 hours per week in therapy sessions with her son. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?’ ” Kimmel says. “And then, all of a sudden, this gym that I had been renting out for Gabriel’s therapy was for sale.”
Without hesitation, Kimmel bought it. She had already transformed her bedroom into a sensory gym (a special gym for children with sensory and motor skill development disorders) at the suggestion of her son’s therapist, so she knew what equipment was needed. “Although I had never run a business like this before, it really wasn’t difficult. I guess that’s how I knew that it was meant to be,” Kimmel says. By opening a children’s gym, she could still fulfill her passion as an entrepreneur, but with the added bonus of spending more time with her children.
The gym opened its doors in 2010 and quickly became a haven for families with special-needs children. “Our database has close to 400 families now,” Kimmel says. “I trademarked the gym, and I’m franchising it as well. People will drive an hour to get here, so they want them everywhere.”
Kimmel credits much of her success to filling a void in the community. “The kids can get their sensory diet here and come in and play with their siblings and friends,” she says. “And with the free Wi-Fi we provide, the parents can get on the computer while their kids are having fun, or talk about the difficult stuff,” such as navigating the confusing world of therapy and education options, and insurance difficulties. Most important, it’s affordable — $10 for an all-day play pass, whereas many sensory therapy programs can cost upward of $100 per hour.
Roughly 30 percent of the children who c ome have special needs. The rest are typical kids. “Everything is inclusive. It really teaches the typical kids compassion, patience, and about Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, and that we’re not all alike.”
Kimmel admits that the hardest part of being a mom and an entrepreneur is figuring out how to allocate her time and energy. “The best advice I could give to moms thinking of becoming entrepreneurs is to make sure you learn to balance your life. When your family needs you, be with your family first. Family is always first.”
Luckily, Kimmel’s two passions intersect. “The most rewarding part of running the gym is being able to be with my children, and seeing my son get whatever he needs whenever he needs it, while my daughter gets to play and have just as much fun,” she says. “And I love helping the other families. Every day I go home happy. I love what I do.”