Each morning when he’s still snug in bed, 5-year-old Kaiden Gaffney pops his eyes open and asks his mom the same urgent question: “What day is it?”
In Kaiden’s ideal world, the answer would always be “Monday.” Every Monday morning since January, Kaiden has been going to occupational therapy — he calls it “OT” — at St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development in Minnetonka.
During a typical session, Kaiden completes exercises with therapy equipment — all while imagining that he’s climbing a mountain, flying a plane or weathering the explosion of a volcano. Every adventure is helping him learn body control and prepping him for kindergarten in the fall.
“Every day I want it to be OT day,” he said on a recent afternoon at the center. “I get to play.”
His weekly sessions take place in the roomy and light-filled therapy gyms at the newly renovated and expanded center. The $13.7 million project added about 6,800 square feet to the early childhood program center, which includes a children’s mental health clinic, an autism day treatment center, a pediatric therapy clinic and a preschool.
Funding for the project came from private and public contributions, including $3.75 million in state bond funding awarded in 2014. The renovations will allow the center to double the number of children it reaches over the next few years.
Gov. Mark Dayton has joined in celebrating the project’s completion, proclaiming July 20 “St. David’s Center Day” to coincide with the nonprofit’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The center, which is housed in a former Hopkins school building, started as a preschool in 1961 but has since expanded its focus to provide services and therapies to children with special needs.
Working in a retrofitted school building posed challenges, said Julie Sjordal, executive director.
“We really needed to get the building to align with the services we were providing,” Sjordal said.
Part of that meant rethinking the center’s décor, moving away from bright primary colors and opting instead for a look inspired by nature. The center’s new natural lighting and warm color palette — with mossy greens, browns and muted oranges — bring the outdoors inside.
“We wanted to create calming spaces where children can explore and be creative without being overly stimulated,” she said.
Another big benefit of the expanded facility is that the center’s various service teams are now grouped in the same areas, including the occupational therapy team that works with children like Kaiden.
“We were all scattered throughout the building before,” said Robin Campbell, the clinical supervisor.
Kids, she said, have been especially excited to explore the new therapy gyms, which debuted in January.
Kaiden’s favorite activity involves a hammock-like swing suspended from the ceiling of the gym. He compares swinging and spinning in it to “flying a baby plane.”
His mom, Natalie Gaffney, describes Kaiden as “busy” and said his OT sessions have helped him become more aware of his own body. He’s also learned calming skills that will be invaluable, she said.
“Little techniques,” Gaffney said, “go such a long way.”