By Ukee Washington

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Northeast Philadelphia martial arts studio is bringing karate to people with special needs after some pandemic pivots.

Last year, we met Mark Gallagher and his wife Alicia. They founded the AmeriKick Cares Foundation. In January 2020, they started a free weekly class for people with special needs, ages grade school to adult.

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Mark explained at the time, “They don’t get the opportunity all the time to have their own environment, and this is just such a positive room with great energy, and it’s just for them.”

It was only a few weeks later that the karate studio had to close due to COVID. But AmeriKick Cares didn’t stop.

By late spring, their classes had moved to local parks, and the class is once again back in person.

“They just continue to keep the ball rolling for our kids,” mother Dawn Powell said.

Powell’s son Anthony is just one of the students back in class.

“He loves it. My son is on the spectrum. There are not very many opportunities for kids out there,” she said.

“Our students are great,” Mark said. “They’ve been adapting, the parents have been adapting.”

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Now that it’s back in person, the class is smaller, about 20. Masks are required.

“We still keep the Zoom program, though, for anyone not comfortable coming in,” Alicia said.

Twelve-year-old Jolee Wiener started the class during the pandemic and loves the discipline, says her mother Jill.

“She thrives on routine, so karate is on Wednesday nights every week and she loves it,” Jill said.

It’s been much the same for her classmate Justin. His father, Justin Reed, said, “It’s been really exciting. The class is phenomenal.”

This class could have become a casualty of the pandemic, but it didn’t. Mark gives a lot of credit to the students and parents.

“Everybody is just so hardworking at keeping this program alive,” Mark said.

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AmeriKick is hoping to add a second class. To get in touch, call the studio at 215-708-CHOP (215-708-2467) or reach them on their Facebook page.

Ukee Washington