BOARDMAN, Ohio (WYTV) – It’s fitting that this week’s Hometown Hero runs a cheerleading school because she also spreads cheer everywhere she goes.
Dana Winters’ involvement with special needs kids started with a parent’s request to start a special needs cheerleading squad. It’s called the Rock Stars.
“So we started our own team for them, just a slower-paced environment and we started accommodating them. The more I worked with special needs kids, I realized that they don’t get to go to trick or treat, they don’t get to go to egg hunts and we thought, ‘We got to make something for these kids,'” Winters said.
Winters is the owner of Miss Dana’s Diamonds in Boardman.
The kids inspire her. One child in particular, Chloe Ann Cox, captured her heart.
All she wanted to do was perform like the other girls, but because the out-of-town facility wasn’t equipped for wheelchairs, Cox almost didn’t get her big chance.
But Winters wasn’t about to let that happen.
“She fought for this little girl to get on the stage. When they said we can’t lift her, she fought and found people that would help lift her wheelchair on stage so that she could get on stage and do what she loved,” said Katie Bowman, a volunteer at an all-inclusive trunk or treat event.
When Cox passed, Winters got involved with a project to honor her memory and help other kids with special needs — the Walnut Grove playground in Canfield. It’s a one-of-a-kind playground for kids with all abilities.
“We realized, if we had somewhere where she could be with us and play with the other kids, it would’ve meant the world to her. I know she’s looking down on us, that’s why it’s beautiful today. There is a bench there in her honor so the kids can be with her all the time,” Winters said.
Winters started an all-inclusive trunk or treat event last year, which was held at Rulli Brothers in Boardman this year.
The joy the event brings keeps Winters motivated.
Her efforts have helped raise over $20,000 to help finance the Walnut Grove.