The Story of Aim High

by Hunter Prins, one of Aim High’s first students, blackbelt, marketing manager

Aim High PDX, a 501(c)3 nonprofit-charity with multiple departments committed to creating positive change in the Portland community, is a very different company today compared to its inception in 2003. Let’s take a brief look back at the journey that helped mold Aim High PDX into the company that is today.

As mentioned above, Aim High PDX was founded back in 2003. What you may not know, however, is that Aim High PDX originally began as a Martial Arts program at a local health and fitness center in the Hillsboro, OR area. The program was founded by Danny Sikkens, a young man who was looking for something more fulfilling than his marketing position at Intel that seemed to make 80+ hours of every week disappear into thin air. The martial arts program’s popularity soared, and soon classes were filled with 50 students, the majority of which were families looking for a positive activity to enjoy together .It was apparent to Danny that his vision for the martial arts program was not aligned with the vision of the health club, so he was left with what many would consider an impossible decision: Maintain his lucrative job at Intel and abandon his 50+ students or quit his job at Intel and fully commit to starting his own martial arts school. As you can probably imagine, Danny chose the latter and never looked back.

In 2004, Danny officially opened his own Martial Arts school under the name of Aim High Academy of Martial Arts (AHAMA).  He was able to maintain nearly all his students after moving away from the health club, which was a deeply encouraging sign to Danny. Many of his closest friends and families doubted the risk he was taking, but his commitment grew stronger with each class that went by.

Danny loved the martial arts, but saw that through martial arts instruction, student saw massive, quick, positive changes in their quality of living. Things like better grades, weight loss, better attitudes and strong family connections. The positives were huge and spanned across multiple areas of human development.

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After growing to 400 students by 2007, it was again time for Aim High to move. AHAMA relocated to a new location in Beaverton with 8,000 square feet. Again, a vast majority of AHAMA’s students stayed with the school. Moving to a bigger space meant that AHAMA could now host its own events, including its first annual Black Belt Test in which Danny awarded 8 students the first Aim High black belts in the school’s young history. Despite the brutal economic challenges many small businesses faced during this time, AHAMA wasn’t done growing yet. Aim High’s new location resulted in a large influx of new students due to its convenient location and, once again, AHAMA needed a new home.

In 2009, AHAMA moved to its current location in NW Beaverton at Bethany and Cornell, one of the top 5 busiest intersections in the Portland area. Over the following years, the school’s student population continued to grow to upwards of 500 students. Due to the large student base allowed, Danny realized that AHAMA could provide benefits to the community in ways that many Martial Arts schools could. As a result, Danny reclassified the AHAMA as a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity*, which allowed the school to provide tuition to students and families who couldn’t afford an activity like Martial Arts. To this day, AHAMA never turns away a student due to the inability to pay. Pretty remarkable, right?

*Living History International, later changed to Aim High Academy of Martial Arts, was founded as a youth education organization by the Sikkens family in 1996, and ran parallel with AHAMA as a for profit since 2004, but in 2009 the for profit model was dissolved and no longer valuable to the mission.

Throughout AHAMA’s first decade as a company, working with the special needs community was one of its key differentiation from other service-based organizations. Whether it was partnering with organizations like The Edwards Center or creating a unique curriculum specifically designed for children with developmental disabilities, Aim High was committed to providing services to all people, regardless of any physical or mental challenges they may face. In 2016, AHAMA took its commitment to providing services to children with special needs to a whole new level. Danny launched a program throughout this whole process called ‘Ninja Stars’ which helped children with development challenges through the vehicle of martial arts but with the underlining mindful curriculum forged to the student’s needs.

A group of children ages 6-14 with autism and other developmental disabilities had recently aged out of their Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) clinic. While many people saw a population of kids that were too challenging to help, Danny saw an opportunity to take AHAMA’s commitment to the special needs commitment to a whole new level. In 2017, Aim High launched a new department called Impact, an ABA clinic committed to providing full-day clinical services to children with autism and other developmental disabilities. To this day, Impact is one of very few clinics in Oregon that provides full day ABA services to children ages 6-14.

A Martial Arts school AND a clinic for kids with autism? Pretty remarkable, right? We certainly think so. The best part is… there’s more!

In 2017, Aim High PDX launched another new department known as “Ink”. Aim High Ink is dedicated to providing high-quality, affordable screen-printing and graphic design services to churches, charities, and schools in its community. In addition, Aim High Ink strives to employ at-risk youth to help them find a purpose and develop vocational skills.

Fast forward to present day Fall 2018 and Aim High PDX is as strong as ever. Aim High Martial Arts is still going strong with over 450 active students and provides over $12000 a month in scholarships to its students who cannot otherwise afford Martial Arts. Impact has nearly doubled its clientele from 8 to 14 in the past year, a growth trajectory that is generally unheard of in their field. Many of their clients have realized many quantifiable improvements including weight loss, increased communication skills, and a substantial decrease in aggressive behavior. Aim High Ink seems to grow exponentially week by week. On average, they produce between 400-600 printed goods for its customers. Furthermore, Ink has launched a mentor-ship program in which young adults who face various challenges volunteer with Ink to develop vocational skills, learn about screen-printing, and develop meaningful relationships during a time in their lives when they need them most.

As you can see, Aim High PDX is truly an incredible organization that is positively impacting thousands of lives in our community everyday. What once started as a one-man martial arts school has turned into a strong, healthy organization with over 50 employees who are deeply passionate in improving the lives of the people they serve.

Article written 09-2018 by Hunter Prins
For questions or comments, please contact Hunter@aimhighpdx.org
For interest in the history or clarification on timeline, please email danny@aimhighpdx.org