McKendree Magazine - Summer 2018

Without Limits

Kati Melton ’15, M.A.Ed. ’18
by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney ’10

Taking a leap of faith is never easy, but when you have a passion like Kati Melton ’15, M.A.Ed. ’18, you find that sometimes fulfilling your own dream helps others reach theirs, too. As a longtime dancer and coach, Kati has discovered there is something more to the art of dance than competitive performances and skilled choreography.

Ultimately, “dance is an outlet,” she said. “It allows people to just be themselves.” In looking around at her students and fellow dancers, however, she couldn’t help but notice that the opportunity to participate in such a healthy way of selfexpression isn’t easily available to everyone. Children with special needs, in particular, struggle to find acceptance in a world that often defines them by their disability while missing what makes them uniquely themselves.

“I have always loved dancing, and I have always wanted to help individuals with special needs,” Kati said. “I wanted to combine the two for as long as I can remember. While all dance classes are pretty inclusive, they don’t always have the accommodations some individuals need, such as sensory items and objects for brain breaks.”

She knew special needs children needed a place to dance where they too could discover the freedom in just being themselves. Thus began Without Limits, Kati’s own dance company serving kids with Down syndrome, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other sensory processing disorders.

Without Limits officially launched in May 2018 with two locations in O’Fallon and Edwardsville, Ill. Within the first two months, more than 30 children were attending dance classes offered two days a week in everything from jazz and tap to hip-hop and ballet.

Quotation Graphic"We really wanted to provide an environment where there were qualified adults to work with kids that have special needs, as well as an environment where they are able to learn at their own pace. We just want anyone and everyone to be able to experience the benefits of dancing." ~ Kati Melton

Even before her days as a McKendree undergraduate student, Kati felt drawn to people with special needs, but she wasn’t sure how to incorporate her passion into her studies and future career. She majored in speech communication and became involved in a host of student organizations, including the PomCats Dance Team, the McKendree Leadership Program, student government, Sigma Sigma Sigma National Sorority, and various honor societies. Outside of campus, she taught dance classes at several different studios and even worked as a speech language pathologist intern at the Illinois Center for Autism in Fairview Heights.

Without Limits“I graduated still not entirely happy with what my degree was in,” she said. “I had always known I wanted to work with individuals with special needs, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity and still wasn’t sure. I didn’t really look for a job and started substitute teaching after graduation. I fell in love with teaching, and then made the decision to go back to McKendree for special education. I felt like I was finally on the right track!”

Kati found further confirmation of her decision to pursue a master’s in education when she applied for and received the prestigious Allison Cassens Scholarship. Established by the Allison Cassens Community Foundation in 2013, it is awarded to students seeking degrees in K-12 education or special education. It was established in memory of Allison Cassens, the daughter of Linda Cassens, a University trustee, and her late husband, Allen R. Cassens, also a trustee. Allison accomplished much before losing her battle with cancer at age 33, including working as a pilot and flight instructor, and participating in international swim competitions. However, one of the most treasured parts of her legacy was her role as a special education teacher.

Quotation Graphic"I was extremely honored to receive the Allison Cassens Scholarship. It gave me confidence as I entered the program, and it furthered my belief that I was on the right path. I’m extremely thankful to her family for selecting me." ~ Kati Melton

In her scholarship application, Kati detailed her experiences with special needs individuals that motivated her to seekanother degree. Her uncle, who has Down syndrome, and mother, who has taught special education students for more than 30 years, were her biggest inspirations.

Without Limits“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by individuals who are differently abled,” she said. “It’s just always been second nature to me that these individuals are capable of doing whatever they put their mind to.” Kati’s dream of helping special needs children realize this about themselves was one reason she received the Cassens Scholarship.

Although she had imagined starting a dance company for years, it took Kati only seven months to bring it to life with the help and support of many people, including her fiancé, who gave her the initial push. Even as a full-time graduate student and dance team coach at Belleville East High School, she decided it was time to put her plans into action. Finding locations to hold class, recruiting clients and instructors, gathering supplies, fundraising, and marketing her brand had to be juggled with work and school during the final year of her master’s degree program. At last, Without Limits was ready for its grand opening just a few days after she walked across the commencement stage to accept her second McKendree diploma.

Currently, Kati is in the process of garnering 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for Without Limits and working toward more new goals. In addition to running her dance company, she will be starting a new job this fall as a special education teacher at Freeburg High School, continuing her dance coach position at Belleville East, and planning her June 2019 wedding. She dreams of finding her own studio space for Without Limits, as well as traveling as a company and taking her clients to local dance competitions. She hopes to accomplish some of these goals in its second year.

Ultimately, Kati knows she has found her niche thanks not only to her determination, but also to the countless people who believed in her and the mission of Without Limits.

Quotation Graphic"Our goal is for our kiddos to leave dance class feeling confident in who they are, loved, and cared for. We want everyone to be able to see that even if a kid is differently abled, they are able to do whatever they set their mind to." ~ Kati Melton