Love for LEEP

We Declare this February the #Love4LEEP Month

This month, help us show our Love for LEEP by telling your story of how LEEP has inspired or supported you.

It's your chance to tell the world how being involved with LEEP has impacted your life!

Share on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #Love4LEEP and we'll highlight some of our favorite stories throughout the month. Or just email your story to (please include a photo) and we'll share it for you. Now, get to spreading the love!


Danielle Backes' Story

"LEEP became a part of our lives in 1999. Moving here from Arkansas & wanting to find a way for our son to fit in. When your child is born without a visible disability it's very difficult for people to accept this child. As parents you hear the comments and what you should be doing, but never others asking you what is your child's disability. They can't see it therefore they are just being a naughty child. Once LEEP became our other family, Christopher began to grow, feel better about himself. For the first time he was accepted for who he was and not what others thought he should be. He started gaining confidence, dedication in what he wanted to accomplish, and an I can attitude! Not once did he hear you're not good enough and you can't do that. LEEP provided opportunities and various sports without barriers. The pure joy and excitement he had when he finally found out he could play basketball! LEEP that was a cherished memory and it's never been forgotten. You changed the life of Christopher by this one small endeavor of coaching, encouraging and a never ending lifetime of values with the gesture of acceptance and allowing him to play. All our lives were forever changed.

We supported LEEP and everything Christopher wanted to do. As the years passed we discovered he was growing up and realizing he'd been learning the other things that LEEP teaches just by what they do. He's a mature young man now, who actively participates in sports, joined the advisory council and lives life. Peter and I also became very involved with coaching and volunteering. And Pete also plays unified sports now. I also am on two committees as well as the LEEP board. Christopher is on the advisory committee. You've given us so much and enriched all our lives. Our daughter and other don became supporters of Christopher and LEEP. They've polar plunged, participated in the bunny run. We've had friends who became involved with LEEP because of Christopher and always supporting him when he was competing. Our son in law and our daughters good friend also cane to numerous state events and they always talk to all our LEEP participants. LEEP is family and always will be and it has extended above and beyond what we could've asked for back in 1999. We are proud to say the tradition continues as our grandson was our youngest and newest LEEP support when he was born. He's been watching uncle Christopher for quite some time now and are so happy to have his support of LEEP too.

LEEP we are forever grateful and thank you for the memories we have and the memories to come. Our extended families that don't live here follow us by Facebook post and LEEP posts".

Monique's Story

"I absolutely love LEEP! Working and volunteering for LEEP has taught me skills that I will use my whole life. I first started volunteering at LEEP in 2012 my freshman year at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I took a class that required doing a volunteer service project and one of the options listed was LEEP. They were talking about how great of a place it was and how everyone loved it when they went to volunteer there. So I decided that’s where I wanted to do my service hours at. I first started out volunteering for LEEP and I instantly fell in love with it.

I absolutely loved every aspect of it, but most of all I fell in love with the participants. They were all just so amazing and welcoming. It felt like I had been there for years not just a couple of times. When my hours were complete I was so sad. I could not imagine not going back, so I decided I had to do something about that. I went and talked to Cate and asked if I could stay even though my hours were up and she said yes. I have been with LEEP ever since I volunteered for two more years after that and then this past October I got hired as a Recreational Lead and I love every minute of it. 

I love the participants, their care takers and my staff members. I love coming to work; it is the highlight of my day. If I am having a rough day and I have work my whole day makes a 180 because of the amazing participants that we have. They are always asking me how I am doing, giving me hugs, telling me how we are best friends, and so on. They are always showing me to never give up no matter what is going on and to fight through it. 

Monique BibeauWorking with LEEP has pushed me out of my comfort zone and helps me grow as a person. Like coaching Special Olympics this year for Basketball I have never coached a sport or ever played basketball. But out of it one of my best memories has come from it. This past week we had our first tournament and I was beyond sacred and afraid that I was going to let my team down. When we got there we had complications and we had to quickly think on our feet to resolve them. We had to practice and practice before the game. We ended up losing our first game but that made the practice after that so much better, because the participants were focused and ready to win. We ended up bonding with each other more after our first loss than during our time practicing. After bonding with our team, we ended up winning our second game. 

After we won, one of my players came up to me and said “I didn’t think we could do it, but we have an amazing coach who never gave up on us and when we listened to you that is when we won. But it’s because you never gave up on us after our loss”. This made my whole experience worth it. It made me realize that I must have been doing something right even though I knew nothing about being a coach. Everyone was hugging me and thanking me for being such an amazing coach. This is why I love LEEP, because it has taught me never to give up no matter how afraid or if you think you’re not good enough, because in the end you are great if you give effort and don’t quit."

-Monique Bibeau
Recreational Lead

Martha's Story

"I think it’s pretty rare to have a job in college that you not only love but also get the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. I often hear people my age complain about how they don’t want to go to work or that they hate their job. I on the other hand am so happy that I get to go to a job I love! I feel honored to work at LEEP! Nothing makes me happier than spending time with the LEEP participants. I love hearing about how their day was or what their big plans are for the weekend. I love when a participants tells me they’ve been waiting all week for karaoke night and they already have their song picked out. I love when a participant tells me their house made a recipe that they learned to cook at a LEEP class. I love seeing a participant get excited at a LEEP dance and run to the dance floor because the DJ is playing “What Does the Fox Say”. I love seeing the friendships that are created on a LEEP vacation. I love driving the LEEP athletes to and from practice and hearing about how they got their free throws down after weeks of not being able to. I love being surrounded by incredible and inspiring people on a daily basis. 

Martha's Love for LEEP StoryOne of my favorite things about working at LEEP is the fact that I get to work next to some of the best people ever! I love the LEEP staff and volunteers! My coworkers are just a bunch of goofy, fun loving characters. We are all so different but we all share the same love and passion for LEEP and that is what makes us work so well together. These people inspire me. I see the long hours they put in and the extra mile they will go to make sure all the bases are covered. It’s an incredible feeling knowing you have such a strong team behind you, one that’s constantly rooting for you to succeed and one that is there to pick you up if needed. Over time the LEEP staff has become like a second family to me, it’s gotten to the point where if we aren’t working together we are probably somewhere hanging out off the clock. 

Looking back when I started at LEEP in 2014, I could never have guessed the impact this job would have on me. I had never worked with people with intellectual disabilities prior to LEEP. I remember being a little fearful in the beginning. I didn’t want to make any mistakes. One of my first shifts was an arts and crafts night activity at the rec center. The night was coming to an end and most participants had been picked up already. One participant who was still there asked me to tie her string of beads together to make a necklace. Her string of beads had to have been over a foot long and was filled up with strictly green beads. During our pass off of the string of beads I ended up dropping it and the green beads went everywhere! I felt horrible and thought for sure my first shift would also be my last shift. I apologized and quickly started to clean up the beads. That little mistake might have been the best thing that could’ve happened to me. The next 10 minutes involved that participant sitting alongside of me and teasing me nonstop about my fumble. She and I couldn’t stop laughing as I sat there reassembling her green necklace. Eventually the laughs turned into conversations about her roommates, how long she’s been coming to LEEP and all the Special Olympic sports she plays. I look back at that night and can’t help but to smile. That night was just the start of all the amazing relationships I would build over time. To this day that participant never fails to remind of the time I dropped her necklace. It’s become one of our inside jokes and one of many reasons why I love LEEP. I am so beyond lucky to have LEEP in my life."

-Martha Garvey
LEEP Staff

Jenn's Story

"LEEP has been a valuable part of my life for 5 years not as a participant but a family member of a participant. Recently though, I also joined a committee and began volunteering. But it is through my brother Jim I first became involved with LEEP. I thought LEEP would only impact Jim since he is an active participant but I was mistaken. When I see the joy and excitement in Jim before and after attending LEEP gatherings, I feel his excitement too. LEEP has opened a whole new world for us both. He communicates more openly with me than he used to which makes me much more proud of him than one can expect. He has grown and matured and I can't explain how that has impacted both of our lives.

This year I joined the Advisory Council and Programming Committee. With the Advisory Council, I was nominated as the Outreach Coordinator. As a part of the council, I have volunteered at a couple dances. I have had great experiencecs thus far by volunteering at these events. Seeing the joy in everyone's face and the fun they have makes me proud to be a part of LEEP. 

My best experience so far has been at the Membership Dance. I had a participant ask if I had any pets. I explained I had 2 cats and a dog. She asked to see pictures which I proudly provided. She gave me a hug and thanked me for showing her my pets. Jumping to the Valentines Dance, the same person followed up on how my cats and dog were doing. She even correctly recalled the names of the cats and dog. I never thought showing a couple pictures could affect a person as I had. She made a huge impression on me just as much as I had on her. Knowing I have influenced a few amazing lives makes me glad to be a part of LEEP yesterday, today and tomorrow."


Erin's Story




'Volunteering with LEEP has taught me so much about compassion, friendship, and living life to the fullest regardless of ability! I am extremely thankful to the participants and staff that have welcomed me into their LEEP family!

-Erin, LEEP Volunteer'






Ashley's Story

"LEEP changed my life for the better about 3 years ago! In high school, I used to avoid people with special needs because I never grew up with any opportunities to involve myself with them. Looking back on these experiences made me notice how immature and sheltered I was. 

LEEP completely changed that for me. I was required to do service learning through MSU for one of my classes and LEEP stuck out to me because of my love for sports. On my first day of practice, I was so nervous and anxious about what to expect. I walked into the gym and the players were so overwhelmingly amazing. I knew it then that I could never go back to the way I was and I never wanted to. That day I fell in love with each and every one of those players. They are so inspiring and their will to learn is outstanding. 

Whenever I leave practice, I know I have impacted someone that day and that they have done the same for me. The LEEP members are just like you and me and they deserved to be treated as that. I will push my players hard because I know they can take it and oh do they love the challenge!"



Natalie and Jessica's Story

"Throughout the week I've been reading awesome stories of love found through LEEP and can't help of think of the lifelong friendship formed there as well! I personally know the people in these great stories and couldn't be happier to have been a part of LEEP. With that said here is my story.

As a sophomore I found out about LEEP by volunteering for a class I was enrolled in at MSU, after a semester of volunteering I found out they were hiring, I immediately applied. I interviewed and was hired along with a few other new staffers. One of those people being Jessica Yada. I remember 1st meeting Jessica at Special Olympics track practice, the 1st shift for both of us. Now while I can't say we were immediate friends, our trip with LEEP to Duluth was one we still talk about! 

Our Senior year of college Jessica and I decided to be roommates, and ended up finding a great 2 bedroom apartment 4 blocks from LEEP. Having an apartment so close to work was not only convenient, it became the unofficial staff hang out. LEEP was not only a great place to work, it was the best place to make friends.

Working at LEEP never felt like work to any of us, it was full of fun, jokes, laughter, learning and great memories. Between watching participants learn new skills through teaching cooking, art and dance classes, watching athletes succeed in their Special Olympics events, opening their eyes to new places and experiences on vacations and my personal favorite dancing at LEEP dances, I can honestly say LEEP was the best, most rewarding job I have had in my life. With such a great atmosphere how do you not make friends? My greatest memories from living in Mankato is with the friends: staff member, volunteers and participants, I created through LEEP.

Now, 6 years later I am still in touch with most of my friends made at LEEP. Although some of us only talk on occasion, they are people I know will be in my life for the long run. As for Jessica, she is still my best friend and we are still roommates! We are both now living in Denver, Colorado, roommates again! We have LEEP to thank for the friendships and memories we still reminisce about!"

Natalie Anderson, Past LEEP Staff Member


Sammy's Story

 I love LEEP because it provided me with a new sense of hope. For decades, this amazing organization has delivered outstanding amounts of love and opportunities for all our participants. That, in itself, pulls on my heartstrings for I have a brother with autism and that kid is my life. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to witness the fun, friendliness, and the freedom that LEEP offers—and the fact that I am able to call myself a LEEP Rec Lead is an unimaginable concept. As an older sister to someone with autism, I am able to recognize the hardships, difficulties, and unbelievable experiences that many people encounter in our world. To be able to come to work and provide simple happiness is more than anyone could ever ask for. 

I am exceptionally grateful for LEEP for several other reasons, but of course my coworkers. I have never met people like these—huge hearts, unconditional kindness and care. They are individuals that I hope to remain close to the remainder of my life.


Ben's Story

"I got involved with LEEP during May of 2015 for my junior field experience class at Minnesota State. Before then I've never really had much experience working with people with disabilities so I didn't know what to expect. 
My main involvement was with Special Olympics volleyball, track, and softball, as well other programs such as cooking classes and monthly birthday celebrations at the LEEP rec center. The first time I met with LEEP staff they were all very warm and welcoming and made me feel comfortable right away.

This past summer I spent helping LEEP will be a summer that I will truly never forget. What made my experience so memorable is the bonds and friendships that I formed working with the staff, athletes, and their caregivers. From every practice, rec center event, and competition I was always met with fist bumps constant high fives and sometimes hugs that caught me off guard. 
Whenever someone would mess up during a sporting event athletes wouldn't yell or criticize them but give them motivation to continue on and persevere. The same thing applied to me since I am terrible at volleyball. Whenever I would make a mistake during practice or in actual competition I would always find participants coming to my side and urging me to not give up and keep on going. 

At the end of each season I found myself to be saddened knowing that I wouldn't be able to interact with the participants that I have spent so much time with each week. As the 2015-16 school year started, and friends of mine started to come back to Mankato, we would exchange stories of what we did during the summer. I would often times find myself telling stories of the events that I had a chance to take part in with LEEP as well as the sporting events. 

One of my favorite memories I have with LEEP comes from the end of the year Special Olympics banquet. I was honored with the award of Rookie Coach of the Year. When my name was announced, athletes that I had worked with erupted with applause and a standing ovation. 

Walking to the front the get the award I was stopped many times by multiple handshakes, pats of the back, and hugs which honestly brought a few tears to my eyes. This upcoming spring 2016 I hope that I can have the same chance to work with all three sports again, and create new memories with the LEEP family. I have great #Love4LEEP"


Jake's Story

"LEEP entered my life when I became a volunteer. Months passed by and LEEP hired me in May of 2015 and has continued working its way into my life ever since. On my first day of work I was welcomed in with hospitality. I have found myself becoming closer with the LEEP staff and becoming more acquainted with the flow of the job. After a few weeks of working, LEEP started to become a part of me. I found myself thinking about work outside of work and found LEEP started to become less of a job and more of a fun community to work in.

I grew up with a sibling who didn’t have a community like LEEP to build a foundation on and to meet other exceptional people in the community. Every day at work I reflect on my life at home and the opportunities that I wished for in my hometown. At LEEP, my job feels like it is meant to be someone helping the community to grow and strive.

Every day I became closer to the participants, getting to know about their lives, interests, fears, and all of the classic jokes at their disposal. I’ve witnessed members in the LEEP community getting closer, welcoming new participants into events, like Special Olympics, as if they’d been there all the previous years. These moments at LEEP being so much joy to me as a team member.

As an aspiring teacher, watching participants learn new crafts and dances through LEEP brings so much joy to me! Participants have told me LEEP is one of their favorite things to do and that they revolve their lives around attending LEEP events. 
Creating and participating in the events or working the athletics is always rewarding as we work towards improving ourselves. The LEEP community and participants are truly amazing! 

I am inspired by everyone whether it’s the amazing recreating leads or the managers who make the events happen. LEEP is the cog that works to keep the exceptional community running, building on experience and creating education through our activities. I can honestly say LEEP has impacted me greatly leaving only positive experiences of fun and the determination to succeed. #love4LEEP" 


April and Cody Arnold

"I met my husband, Cody Arnold, in Mankato and unbeknownst to us we were both actually working at organization LEEP.

One day as I went to work I was not thinking that I was going to walk into the LEEP office and see a guy I’d met outside of work, I was thinking about my shift and what I would be doing. Then it happened, the familiar beep of the front door rang as I walked into LEEP and Cody came to greet me. 

Part of our story many may not know is that I was blessed with the opportunity to work for my sister, Mandy Hunecke, at LEEP. For a few weeks she had been telling me that I needed to meet her intern because she thought he was PERFECT for me. Mandy knew I was coming in to work that day, but didn’t realize we’d already met. She witnessed Cody and I “re-meet” and was confused on how we’d already met, because this guy was her intern that she had wanted me to meet. smile emoticon 

From that day on Cody and I worked together at LEEP, a job in which we are both very passionate about. LEEP is an amazing organization to work for, it provides many amazing opportunities for the participants and its employees. LEEP never felt like work, it was an inspiring and soul cleansing environment. The participants inspired Cody and me daily as we wanted to be better for them, and they taught us how to do just that. I will forever be grateful to LEEP for all that it did for Cody and me. We will always have #Love4LEEP"





"I come here to play UNO . I like dancing, my friends, volunteers, and staff here." - Becky 



Kayla and Eric

Showing their Love for LEEP, Kayla and Eric tell us how important LEEP is to them. They are 2 great people who found love while at working/volunteering at LEEP.

"It all began at a LEEP Flag Football Practice in 2011. I was a volunteer and Kayla was a coach. I remember walking up and talking with another volunteer before practice, when I saw Kayla for the first time. She was sitting down at a picnic table, checking the athletes in when I turned to the other volunteer and said, “Who is THAT?”

The more we were around one another, the more our connection became undeniable and the more it grew, all thanks to LEEP . Kayla impressed me every second I was around her, and I soon realized that she was the sweetest, most sincere, and kind person I would ever meet. She was an absolute rock star at LEEP and shined in every setting with participants, co-workers, and community members alike. LEEP is such a joyful and positive place, that it cannot help but foster joyful and positive relationships, which is exactly what happened with Kayla and I.

I always said that LEEP opened my eyes to a whole new world. I was oblivious to the world of Special Olympics and people with disabilities when it came down to it. I learned so much and met the most incredible people – participants and staff – while working there. The life lessons, memories, and friendships I took with me when I left LEEP in August of 2013 will forever make me indebted to LEEP, but the thing I love the most that I got to take with me that day was my beautiful fiancé Kayla.

We moved to Missouri and began careers as a Kindergarten Teacher and Soccer Coach while continuing to volunteer with Special Olympics. We still live down there today, but would like nothing more than to move back to the Mankato area in the near future. Kayla and I reminisce about LEEP – the place where it all began – frequently, but have done so even more as we plan our wedding. We miss you all and everything about LEEP – a place that we hold very near and dear to our hearts.

With Love and Sincere Thanks,

Kayla and Eric