Remember back when I used to write bi-weekly posts? I do, too, and I miss it. But despite my 18-month tenure as an OG of the ACMB, I had to take a step back from writing.
And then I stumbled on a topic that—had I still been a regular contributor—would have been the subject of my very next post. It has all elements I like to think I brought to our collective table: information about local nonprofit organizations, little-known facts about San Antonio institutions, and (if I’m being honest) an attention to technical details that perhaps only an attorney would think appropriate for a general-interest parenting website. But stumble on it I did, and I came out of semi-retirement to share it with you:
It’s here, and it’s huge. Allow me to explain.
In 1997, Mexican citizen and resident Fernando Landeros travelled to Chile, where he observed a telethon that raised money for disadvantaged children with disabilities. He returned to Mexico with a plan to implement a similar event to raise money for children’s education. By chance, he crossed paths with a family whose daughter suffered from a neurological condition. The girl was kept separated from the rest of her family in unlivable conditions because her impoverished parents had no resources to care for her. Landeros was so moved by the girl and her family’s plight that he changed the purpose of his telethon to raise money for children’s rehabilitation centers instead. His goal became to ensure that no child in Mexico who needed help would ever have to live like the girl he met.
Today, the Teletón in Mexico is an annual 24-plus-hour TV and radio broadcast, produced by major media conglomerates and more than 500 Mexican and foreign media. It supports 22 children’s rehabilitation facilities in Mexico—Centros de Rehabilitación Infantil Teletón—that make up the world’s largest private medical network of rehabilitation centers for children.
As the years went by and the specially designed model of care began to produce unprecedented results for children and families across Mexico, CRIT administrators began to notice an influx of patients treated at their centers . . . from across the United States. Perplexed as to why Americans were flying down to Mexico, executives at the Teletón Foundation began to travel to pediatric hospitals and rehabilitation facilities throughout the United States in search of the answer: there was nothing like CRIT’s medical model or facilities in this country.
In response, the TeletonUSA Foundation was established in 2012 as an I.R.C. §501(c)(3) organization, to help sick, disabled, and physically challenged children here in the United States. It is financially and legally separate from Teletón, but like its partner organization, and in partnership with Univision, it raises money through a nationally broadcast telethon. The first $15 million raised by TeletonUSA Foundation was used to build the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, right here in San Antonio. Last October, ACMB hosted its Mummies’ Night Out at the facility, and I recently had the opportunity to tour this place, located next to Morgan’s Wonderland and the STAR Soccer Complex, myself.
In my professional life, I specialize in representing tax-exempt organizations, so I’ve been inside my share of nonprofit facilities. As a parent, I was on the receiving end of services from the amazing Sunshine Cottage. And I was absolutely blown away by the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute. The physical plant is beautiful, with bright colors, open spaces, and state-of-the-art equipment. But what stood out to me was the atmosphere: everyone, from the security guard to the Executive Director, was smiling. Every person was greeted by name, and my tour guides (administrators not involved in direct care) knew the backstory and circumstances of every patient and family we passed.
I found myself engaging in the thought experiment I fall into every time I learn about a new organization, asking “What would it be like if this place did not exist?” And truly, I cannot imagine what these families’ lives would be like without this organization and its resources. I’m at the outer limits of my abilities parenting my four- and six-year-olds. I cannot imagine if my ordinary challenges were overlaid with having to teach my school-aged children to walk, or to develop enough fine motor skills to operate a motorized assistive mobility device, or to tend to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of my other children if one child’s special needs were so all-consuming. My visit to the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute left me humbled and inspired by the extraordinary strength that these patients and their families demonstrate in overcoming seemingly overwhelming challenges. So, I love that the organization and facility exists, because I cannot imagine what its beneficiaries would do without it.
And, I am thrilled that the TeletonUSA Foundation chose the Alamo City as the home of the first Children’s Rehabilitation Institute facility. Sure, I love that the location is convenient for my fellow San Antonians who need what the organization has to offer. And, the facility is a nice compliment to San Antonio’s medical-care economic base. But my deepest delight comes from a place more visceral. Here in San Antonio, we have more than just vague ties to Mexico. From our families, to our culture, to our economy, we are interwoven with Mexico. The rest of the nation can marvel at the Latin Explosion or wring their hands over what they worry undocumented migrants might bring or do to our country. San Antonio’s relationship with Mexico will abide. And if our city can be a showplace for Mexico’s contributions to this country and the world, we’ll be all the richer for it.
Finally, the wonk in me can’t help by be fascinated by the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute’s evolution. In nonprofit-development terms, the $15 million facility may as well have been dropped here from outer space. It was funded not by a multi-year capital campaign, or by a few generous donors, but by a telethon, in which $15 million was raised in 30 hours, at an average contribution of $25 dollars per gift. The San Antonio facility was made possible by ordinary people—most of them Hispanic, and many of whom personally referred children who became the facility’s first patients—across the country. And it’s in our backyard. By a stroke of our collective luck, the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute is here to serve us, and it’s here for us to support. It is the flagship facility for a unique form of care for a population that is devastatingly underserved. It establishes San Antonio as a stage upon which a concept from our brother Mexico can be seen by the nation. And, it’s a nonprofit organization that, by virtue of its non-traditional funding, is a model of what a different form of philanthropy can look like for our generation and beyond.
The organization is having its first community fundraising event, the Believe in Little Hearts Soirée, on November 1, 2016 from 7 to 10 P.M. at the facility. The building will come alive for guests to live what it’s like to be a child within its walls on a daily basis. I highly encourage supporting and attending, because it will be an experience that will stay in your heart forever.
For more information about the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, visit critusa.org.
Katy is a San Antonio native who spent seven years on the East Coast. She is back home now, married to her match.com sweetheart, rearing her children Claudia (6) and Thomas (4), and practicing tax law.