Igniting the Senses

A new, immersive experience for sensory-sensitive individuals is timed to coincide with Ignite Peoria.

by Emily Potts
Ignite Peoria
Sensory Ignite's volunteer planning committee, led by Brandon Mooberry (left), is comprised of numerous local agencies.

Ignite Peoria, an initiative of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, has become a fixture of Peoria’s arts community over the last six years. Home of the Midwest Makerfest, Ignite is a creative extravaganza of art, music, science and robotics, featuring exhibit booths, live performances and hands-on workshops. The excitement is palpable at every turn, but with so much to see and do, the many activities have the potential to overwhelm individuals with sensory sensitivities. Enter Sensory Ignite, headed up by local musician Brandon Mooberry, which will run in conjunction with the main event—but in a separate area for those with sensitivities to loud noises, bright lights and big crowds. 

“Ignite has the Midwest’s largest battle bots competition, which is awesome, but could be one of several things that could overload the system of someone who has autism,” Mooberry explains. With that in mind, he and his wife Sarah—namesake of their band, Sarah & The Underground, and music stage curator for Ignite Peoria—brainstormed ways to be more inclusive of people with sensory sensitivities, and what organizations they could partner with to make that happen. Landing on the idea of a distinct event within an event, they presented the concept to ArtsPartners executive director Jenn Gordon, who saw its potential right away.

“I’m spearheading this because I want an opportunity to help people with autism and their family members,” says Mooberry, who has a personal connection to autism through his brother. “I’ve seen the struggles Josh goes through every day, and I have also witnessed the energy and love my mom and stepdad have poured into him—and how frustrating it is to find the right resources to help meet his needs.” Mooberry also teaches private music lessons, and has had many autistic students he’s grown to care about.  

Penguin Project
Members of the Penguin Project theater group in their performance of Grease.

With Sensory Ignite, he has two primary goals: to provide a large room with a controlled environment and a judgment-free zone; and to have a range of organizations on hand to provide information and guidance to caretakers of people with sensory sensitivities. “My vision is for a fun event with loads of information, where the parent and their child—no matter what age—will be welcomed and loved for being exactly who they are,” he explains.  

Mooberry is working with a number of community organizations to develop programming for the August event. Here’s a sampling of what will be on hand: 

  • Blue Ridge Community Farm will have craft projects for individuals to make and take. 
  • Central Illinois Autism Association will provide information about its services and sensory boxes with materials that encourage play and experimentation using all five senses. 
  • Connected Pediatric Intervention, which developed the PLAY Project, an early autism intervention model, will provide activities and information. 
  • Easterseals will offer pre-screenings if parents suspect their child might have autism.
  • Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA) will offer a sensory-friendly art project.  
  • Hammitt Schools, the educational arm of The Baby Fold which specializes in helping students ages five to 15 who have behavior or emotional disabilities, will provide information about their schools in Normal. 
  • The Penguin Project, a theater group for individuals with special needs, will put on a play on the main stage at Ignite Peoria and have a booth at Sensory Ignite with sign-up information. 
  • Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum will provide an interactive activity focused on light and color. 
  • The Antioch Group will offer information on its counseling services.
  • Anita’s Essential Bliss, an essential oils company, will host workshops on calming oils that have shown success in people with autism and sensory sensitivities. 

As the planning for Sensory Ignite comes together, Mooberry is excited about the feedback he’s getting. “It’s been such a wonderful experience… to be surrounded by such positive people making a serious effort to help their disabled community members,” he notes. “Sensory Ignite is very much about the community—and strengthening it so we can make all our lives a little easier and deposit peace in the hearts of those who need it.” PM

Ignite Peoria and Sensory Ignite take place at the Peoria Civic Center on August 10, 2019 from 9am to 5pm. More information on both events can be found on Facebook.