Ensuring Everyone Gets to Go

After memorable years at Falk, Toki and Memorial, JMM class of 2000 alumna Melanie Isaacs went to the UW-Madison to follow her passion and study animals. Following a degree in Zoology, and a year volunteering in the Cook Islands for the Ministry of Marine Resources, she went to Western Illinois University to get her masters in Biology and Certificate in Zoo and Aquarium Studies. While checking the boxes to become a biologist and working at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago she had an experience that would change everything... 

One day, while Melanie was coming home from work on the "El," a father noticed the aquarium logo on her shirt and they started chatting about sharks. As they spoke, his son sitting next to him was getting more and more excited. Melanie turned to the son and asked, "Do you like to visit the aquarium?" The boy didn't say a word, but his father quickly interjected and said "No, we can't go. My son has autism. It would be too overwhelming." This was crushing. The family clearly wanted to visit, but felt they couldn't. Melanie switched her master thesis to creating a set of tools, based on behavioral therapy, to help families like the one from the train go to the aquarium. After positive results and a few more zoo jobs and pilots, she founded Pal Experiences, a nonprofit dedicated to making venues more inclusive and accessible to guests with developmental disabilities. Pal Experiences has worked with venues ranging from restaurants, urgent cares, river rafting outfits, and of course, aquariums. Melanie does not want to stop until communities are truly inclusive, and everyone gets to go.

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