PlayBig Therapy & Learning Center Offers Private Schooling

Until recently, parents with special-needs children were often driving 90 miles or more to Tallahassee after working all night to ensure their children could receive assistance from Play Big Therapy.

Last year, to serve this region, owners Kelley Hutto and Rachel Scharlepp opened a second therapy and learning center at 4550 Lafayette St. in Marianna, in the Rivertown Community Church shopping center. Less than a year later, the facility includes a private school for special-needs children.

Hutto, a physical therapist, and Scharlepp, a behavioral therapist, met several years ago, when they realized that they shared a client family. They soon became friends and, according to Scharlepp, “practiced a while” to see if combining their services would provide better assistance for their clients. It didn’t take long for the ladies to learn that their combined model works. Hutto said that while celebrating her birthday a few years ago, “they decided to become partners” and combine their more than 36 years of experience to better assist children with special needs.

The partners started by opening the Tallahassee Play Big Therapy & Learning Center, which uses a neuro-physiological approach to engage children, from infants to 18-year-olds, and unlock their individual potential. The model used includes a family fan base, a child athlete, and a team of coaches, including physical therapists, behavioral therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and a care manager. Hutto and Scharlepp soon realized that additional services were needed in Marianna.

A few months ago, the Play Big Therapy & Learning Center in Marianna began promoting programs for all kids. The center provides a great space for birthday parties and other celebrations. Plus, Friday nights are open to all children so parents can enjoy a date night. Parents can drop off their children for pizza and supervised play.

Most recently, the center added private schooling. Interested parents can apply for the McKay Learning Scholarship on the Florida Department of Education website, to assist with tuition costs. The Gardiner Scholarship is also available for the learning center, therapy, tutoring and tuition. Call Linda Nichols at 850-942-2000 for pricing and insurance information.

“Autism, learning disabilities, and traumas are our specialty,” Hutto said. Scharlepp added that “the kids served best are the ones who need the whole team.” Learning Center Director Keeli Goins expressed how she enjoys helping children succeed in the center’s small setting, so they can later shine in the community. However, according to Linda Nichols from the front office, “greatness takes time” and families need to “trust the process.”

The partners expressed how they love the community and how grateful they have been to Rivertown Community Church for their generosity and support with resources. Hutto smiled as she said “it’s good to be celebrated.” She continued by expressing her desire “to collaborate and partner with the City of Marianna, Jackson County, Florida State University, Family Dollar and others involved, if an Autism Center is established in the future.”

Hutto and Scharlepp recently received an award for being a family friendly workplace. “We allow workers to bring their children with them to work and we pay our employees well,” Hutto explained. Scharlepp added, “We are always growing our Play Big team.” The center is currently hiring for all positions, including social workers, teachers, therapists and similar positions.

Shop locally, support Marianna businesses and visit Play Big Therapy & Learning Center during their business hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for academic programs; and Friday evenings, 5-9 p.m. for Date Night. For more information, call 850-942-2000. Visit the City of Marianna’s website, www.mariannafl.city/335/New-Businesses-and-Other-Community-News, to learn more about new businesses.

Kay Dennis, MBA, MPA, A.I.C.P., is the director of Municipal Development for the City of Marianna.