NEWS Santa’s Sleigh Challenge Benefits Children with Disabilities

Santa's Sleigh Challenge Benefits Children with Disabilities

KXAN (Austin) – Two distinct communities, one that excels at bringing people together through fitness and one dedicated to growing a statewide family for some of the most vulnerable in Texas.

“We have only one mission and that is to ensure that children with developmental disabilities grow up in loving families, not institutions,” said Elizabeth Tucker, executive director of EveryChild, Inc.

A few miles away from her office is an unsuspecting warehouse-like building where people come to work out and leave with a new mindset.

“The intent of every step is to start from the ground up, so we start by building a really solid foundation through the feet,” says Dave Nuzzolo, personal trainer at Squatch Frontier Fitness, of the sled push exercise. He says the foundation is the key – it will propel you farther – and gain momentum on the sled. This group of fitness enthusiasts is using this mindset to help others.

Team Squatch came up with the Santa Sleigh Challenge to tap into the holiday spirit and put the joy of the season to good cause.

The challenge is simple. First you get a sponsor who will agree to pay you a certain amount for every yard you push the sled. Participants’ goal is to push the sled for 30 minutes and reach 1,000 yards.

Don’t let the sledding scare you.

Dave Nuzzolo, personal trainer at Squatch Frontier Fitness, helped create a bobsled challenge to help keep Texas families together. (KXAN/Jose Torres)

“We use sleds here for training for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they’re so accessible, you can really scale the sleds to the point where it could be a working 80-year-old grandma or a professional linebacker,” Nuzzo Luo explained.

Proceeds will go to Every Child in Texas, an organization dedicated to keeping families together.

“EveryChild is a family-founded nonprofit that advocates for the development of family alternatives to place children with developmental disabilities in facilities,” Tucker said.

There are hundreds of cases of parents being separated from their children. Some had to drive eight hours to leave their children at one of the facilities. It may then be weeks or months before the family sees them again. The nonprofit stepped in by finding supportive families in Texas, but the organization needed funding.

KXAN Producer Jose Torres chats with Every Child Texas Executive Director Elizabeth Tucker to better understand how fundraisers like the Santa’s Sleigh Challenge push nonprofits to excel at keeping families together.

Torres: What does every kid in Texas do?

Tucker: We’ve helped move hundreds of children from facilities to loving families in Texas. Some children return home with supports and services, while others move to support homes that are carefully recruited and trained based on the needs of the child and the preferences of the child’s family. The two families then jointly care for the child. Many children need additional support at home, such as nursing care, medical equipment, and home modifications. We also work with state agencies to change and develop policies to better support children with disabilities growing up in their families.

Torres: How are families affected if they don’t have the resources you provide?

Tucker: When we first started our work on ensuring children with developmental disabilities thrive in their homes, there were more than 1,600 children living in facilities like nursing homes and group homes. After years of effort to develop home-based alternatives to facility care options and changes to national programs, approximately 950 children now live in the facility. Even taking into account that some kids are still being admitted, the figure is down 69%. About 67 percent of the children moved to a support family rather than a home.

Families in Texas are struggling and waiting for services and are being forced to consider facility-based placements in times of crisis. Sometimes the resettlement sites are hours away from their homes. We are too small to help all families in need. Sometimes we don’t even know a family needs help until the child leaves the house.

Torres: Why are you so passionate about this organization?

Tucker: EveryChild has been described by many as a small but mighty organization. We have only one mission and that is to ensure that children with developmental disabilities grow up in loving families, not institutions. We have a large team of dedicated individuals who go out of their way to ensure the success of children and families. I got a note from a disability advocate who moved from Texas a few years ago that said “When I think of the best kid in Texas, I always think of EveryChild”. That’s how I see organizations. Children thrive when they are surrounded and cared for in loving families.

Torres: Why are fundraisers like the Santa Sleigh Challenge important? Where does the organization get its primary funding from?

Tucker: EveryChild receives the majority of our funding from the state of Texas, which is committed to ensuring children and families are supported. However, since 2015 our funding has been flat. We need funds to recruit more support families and to help support families get what they need to bring their children home.

Click here to donate or participate in the Santa’s Sleigh Challenge and learn more about the families this nonprofit helps.

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