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Hood River News . The Dalles Chronicle
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
When Sarah McDonnell, MA CCC-SLP, fi rst launched Play Works Children’s Th erapies
in 2016, she provided therapy to fi ve families. Now, four years later, her business is helping
hundreds of families from throughout the Gorge and approximately 200 youth every week.
Play Works Children’s Th erapies recently opened it’s second clinic in Hood River, home to
the Play Works Center for Autism Services.
“Th is location is unique from our pediatric outpatient clinic on the Heights, as this clinic
is ABA centric, while oﬀ ering wrap around services including occupational, speech, and
physical therapy,” McDonnell said.
Located in Hood River, Play Works taps the evidenced-based power of play and uses it
in the specialties of speech and language therapy, applied behavioral analysis (ABA),
occupational therapy, physical therapy and feeding therapy.
“When we fi rst opened, we were the second pediatric therapy clinic in the area, so
deciding to expand our scope and square footage felt risky as all business ventures do,”
McDonnell is currently working with funders, specifi cally state funded insurance plans,
to access reasonable rates so that she may continue to attract and retain the highest level of
staﬀ in order to meet the needs of families in the Columbia River Gorge.
Play Works Center for Autism Services works with children ages 2-18 and their families,
with programming including the Intensive Early Childhood Program and After School
programs for adolescents and teens with Autism and related disorders.
Play Works addresses conditions ranging from developmental delays to motor skill
impairments, speech and feeding disorders, autism, memory/cognition, attention defi cit
hyperactivity disorder and much more.
Since the business launched, McDonnell has expanded her children’s therapy clinic
to a staﬀ of 20, relocated three times to accommodate growing patient access and patient
services, and most recently added a second location. Today, Play Works is the only resource
of its kind not just in the Columbia River Gorge but the entire state of Oregon.
Play Works also oﬀ ers bilingual (Spanish) services and provides access to all people,
regardless of their social, cultural, linguistic or economic backgrounds.
Play Works is planning its fourth open house and patient celebration in March (details
will be announced soon) at the Center for Autism Services. Th e event will honor the
excellence of its growing staﬀ , the patients they serve, and their second location.
Bouldering community, cont.
“Th e goal is to have enough variety in the route setting,” Byrne said, “both in diﬃ culty
and style.” Routes include straight verticas as well as a variety of overhangs called aretes —
French for ridges.
Altschl and Byrne both have climbing and indoor gym experience, and started writing
business a plan just under two years ago, after considering other locations in Hood River.
“Shortly thereafter, we started looking at spaces and Jen found this on Craig’s List,” Byrne
said. “We did a long feasibility study to see if we can make it work in this town and in this
building. So far so good,” he said. Vertical Solutions of Salt Lake City designed the multi-
colored climbing walls, and the general contractor was Orange Construction of Hood River.
Notably, new burnished brown wood mixed in with the climbing surfaces mimics the
church’s original distinctive “bead board” woodwork.
Brandon Bertram of Hood River said of Brimstone, “It’s like a puzzle piece on the wall; It’s
very involved.” Bertram, who has used several facilities in Portland, said, ““When I heard this
was coming around, I came to the open house and they had a very cool presentation, I was
hoping they would do it the right way, and the answer is yes — world class routes, I could
come here every day for six months and fi nd something new.”
Erika Ellis, OTD, OTR/L and her pediatric patient enjoy a social play
routine together. Photo courtesy of Playworks
Owner Sarah McDonnell in front of PlayWorks’ new location on the
Heights in Hood River.
In the light of the stained glass, and the Psalms-inspired lady of the
rock, Will Bickerstaﬀ of Government Camp tries a route, also known as
“problem”; at left, kid-friendly routes in the next room are no problem for
Ronan Scott-Roberts, 5, of Hood River. Photos by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Routes are changed every fi ve weeks, giving repeat users time to get to know and perfect
“projects” while keeping things fresh, according to Byrne. Molly Beard is head route setter.
Nathan Frankel runs the youth programs, and staﬀ members also include Eric Holmes,
Hansen Urdahl, Mark Pearce and Jenny Harris.
Th e gym is open noon to 9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, though the
schedule is subject to change once the owners have a better handle on user needs, and
climbing options vary including day passes, punch cards, and annual and family passes.
Climbers sign a waiver at a counter fashioned from the original organ keyboard, and climb-
ing shoe rentals are required. Chalk, and chalk bag worn on the hip are also available.
Altshul said, “Coming up the with name one was one of the hardest parts for us. We
wanted something that did not ignore the fact that we are in an old church, that gave a nod
to that, but people wouldn’t mistake for religiously aﬃ liated. We wanted to have some nod
to climbing.” Hence the word “stone.”
“We wanted it to be a little irreverent without oﬀ ending people,” Altschul said.