Houston Children’s Charity: A Decade of Caring

September 1, 2006 by  
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Making a difference in children’s lives

In the summer of 1999, 15-year-old Michelle Alcorn’s life was forever changed when she was diagnosed with meningococcal septic shock, leading to the amputation of her arms and legs below the elbows and knees. During this ordeal with the rare, rapidly spreading bacterial infection, every movement was excruciatingly painful.

After emergency treatment and surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital, Michelle moved to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) in the Texas Medical Center. This not-for-profit hospital accepted Michelle, even though her family’s private health insurance had been exhausted. It was then that Houston Children’s Charity heard about Michelle. HCC raised the funds to help her get new (myoelectric) arms. Michelle later sent a poem to express her thanks. For the first time, she could relay a message in her own way. It read:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I could not be writing this
if it weren’t for you.

“To know that we made an impact on someone’s life … when she wrote that note, it was the most emotional moment. I’ll remember it my whole life,” says Gary Becker, president of the children’s organization.

David Usen was born with a condition called spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Due to the weakness of his extremities, David cannot stand or even hold himself in a standing position. It’s hard for him to communicate with his family because he can’t talk. HCC purchased a motorized wheelchair for David to replace his original push-type wheelchair. He also received a Tech/Four device, an alternative communication device that allows him to communicate.

Another story finds a woman on a bus with three kids no where to go, and no money. She left an abusive home life, but could only remain in a shelter for six months. HCC found her an apartment, pots and pans, furniture and more. “We set her off in the right direction,” says Becker. “That’s what we do.”

Houston Children’s Charity is dedicated to improving the quality of life for Greater Houston’s underprivileged, abused and handicapped children who have been otherwise left behind. “It’s those who have slipped through the cracks,” says incoming president Edna Meyer-Nelson. Specifically, those children right here in Houston. That’s what gets Meyer-Nelson excited. “Our hands-on board gets the job done.”

This independent charity isn’t part of a national alliance, so all the funds stay here, and nothing goes back to a national office. Celebrating their 10th anniversary this October, HCC has generated $8.5 million in total revenue and has gifted $6.8 million.

It wasn’t always this way. “It’s the blood, sweat and tears of our board that has gotten us to this point,” says Laura Ward, executive director. “They are so emotional and so hands-on. Whatever is needed to help a child, the board finds a way to make it happen,” she says.

HCC is out and about helping Houston children daily. Some of their unique programs include buying vans and distributing them through “Chariots for Children.” These special purpose vehicles transport children to therapy, after-school activities and, once a year, an Astros game. They’ve also assisted the Furniture Bank with two delivery trucks with hydraulic lifts, as well as beds, new bedding and furniture. Since 1997, HCC has gifted 60 vans valued at $1,763,444 to many local agencies, including Children’s Assessment Center, HOPE Shelter, Jaycee’s Children Center, Interfaith Ministries and Covenant House.

When a child has no where else to turn, HCC steps in. No request is too big or too small. For instance, when Texas Aquatics needed an elevator to get paraplegics from the dock to the boat for waterskiing, HCC sourced the elevator and had it installed. “My staff got really involved in that one,” says Meyer-Nelson. “They worked hard to make sure we got the best deal on the elevator and oversaw the installation.”

HCC also enables other local charities to do good deeds. Many have benefited from HCC’s programs and funds, such as The Arbor School, Casa de Esperanza, Children’s Safe Harbor and Child Advocates. This type of mega-giving takes focus. “We have the ability to raise funds,” says Ward. Through large galas and silent auctions, substantial amounts of money are raised. With opulent fundraisers and high-ticket entertainment, such as Lyle Lovett, Phyllis Diller, Paul Anka and Chicago, HCC has developed a following at its fund-raising events. Big names bring in the big bucks, and this charity has figured out what it takes to raise a lot of money. Last year’s gala netted $586,144. The formula works for the benefit of the children.

Never resting on their laurels, the holidays are very special at HCC. With Christmas toy distribution, an Easter party and a Christmas party, HCC helps disadvantaged children expand their awareness and experience the joys of receiving. Holidays at the Hyatt help more than 800 children; and each year at Silver Eagle Distributors, more than 3,500 presents are passed out. The charities invited to the party are different, expanding the reach of this great organization.

Wanting to enhance its ability to help children, HCC is always looking for committed volunteers. They measure success by the number of children’s lives that are touched. “We do great work,” says Becker. “The more support we get, the more we’ll do.” HCC is the place that people go when they need immediate help, sometimes life-sustaining help. As this story went to press, the volunteers at HCC were passing out $100 Wal-Mart gift cards. “They will go to school this year with dignity,” says Ward. “It’s the little things we do every day that make this charity unique. There’s not another agency in town making sure that children have new uniforms to wear to school. Little things go a long way in increasing self esteem.”

It’s not too late to reserve a seat at this year’s gala on Oct. 28, where Huey Lewis and The News will be performing. For tickets, call (713) 524-2878.

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