History of Big Jump: An Interview with ESP Executive Director, Laura Whitaker
Laura Whitaker, M. Ed., began her relationship with Extra SpecialPeople, Inc. by working as a counselor and, subsequently, a leadership team member in 2003. With her passion for enhancing the lives of children with developmental disabilities and her specialized education in this field, Laura was selected as the director after the founder, Martha Wyllie’s sudden passing in 2004. She has found her dream job with ESP (or her dream job found her!). As Executive Director, Laura uses her leadership and management strengths to manage staff, oversee multiple year-round programs and raise funds to run programs. Her favorite part of the job is getting to hug the many children who walk through the ESP doors.
How did Big Jump start?
“I had always wanted to skydive and I knew other people would want to check it off their bucket lists, too. Big Jump would be an extra push for people to jump and do it together for charity. I first met with Skydive Monroe 7 years ago having the idea it would be superhero themed and it grew from there.”
How has Big Jump grown over the years?
“The first year we had 20 jumpers participate and last year that number grew to 60. The day of Big Jump started with small yard games for the kids and now we have food vendors, pony rides, and more.”
How did the idea of having participants jump come about?
“The idea started with Matthew Dooley who wanted to jump for his 18th birthday during our 3rd Big Jump. It was so inspiring to see him jump. Having our participants jump added an extra component to the event that allowed us to include individuals with disabilities. Four years ago, we added celebrity skydivers jumping with our participants.”
What do you love about Big Jump?
“Normally when you mark something off your bucket list, no one is around to celebrate what you just did. When you do Big Jump, something really crazy, there are hundreds of people cheering you on and celebrating what you have done. I love watching others be celebrated and seeing people interact with our participants and their families. We ask our participants to go outside their comfort zones every time they are at ESP and now we are asking other people do the same. Our community’s bold actions allows more individuals with disabilities to go to camp and inspire others.”