A LEAP OF FAITH. A VALENTINE'S WISH.
For the past 5 years I have devoted most of my time, energy, and resources to giving kids living in poverty in Rocky Point, Mexico hope for a better future through education. My heart has been so full seeing the hundreds of students we now support getting the chance to go to school and thrive both inside and outside the classroom. However, for five years my heart has also been breaking. It has been breaking because, unlike the students in our program, most kids with special needs in the community have been marginalized and are not getting the opportunity to thrive and participate fully in life.
As I have had the privilege of getting to know the parents of many children with special needs in the Rocky Point, I have been both devastated and inspired by their stories. Devastated that, although these parents so desperately want their kids to have the opportunity to reach their potential, most are not able to access the professional support needed to make this possible; inspired by the depth of the love these parents have for their children and the lengths they have been willing to go to try to get them the professional support they need.
Getting to know and love these twins and their mother over the past 4 years inspired me to take this leap of faith.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of comprehensive professional services for children with special needs in Rocky Point, families often must travel 7 – 8 hours by bus to the Children’s Hospital in Hermosillo. I will never forget sitting with a mother I had come to know as she cried and told me that the previous week her husband had to take off work for two days to care for their older son and one of their disabled twins while she took the bus to Hermosillo with the other disabled twin so that he could be seen by a specialist there—only to be told upon arrival that their appointment had been cancelled. Not only was this an incredibly difficult and exhausting trip for her but the expense of the trip combined with the father missing two days of work meant that they did not have enough money for food that week.
Listening to this story and many others like it over the past few years left me determined to one day be able to provide services for families like hers. By last summer, with our current program in its 4th year and running smoothly, my local team and I finally felt ready to expand to serving kids with special needs in the community. We spent several months making plans to launch a new program we decided to call C.A.T.I. which stands for ‘Centro de Atencion y Terapia Infantil’ and translates to ‘Center for Attention and Therapy for Children’. By early fall we had established a plan and a budget for C.A.T.I. and set a goal of raising the funds to operate the program for at least one year before launching it. In the late fall we had raised enough money to operate C.A.T.I. for a few months and were all so excited that this dream might soon become a reality.
Then COVID hit…
With so many suddenly out of work and the community in crisis, my local team put our education program and fundraising for C.A.T.I. on hold. We spent the next six months focusing on feeding thousands of local families. By August when we were able to gradually begin returning our focus to education, it was clear that the hundreds of students in our program were now facing unprecedented barriers to education due to the transition to remote learning. So, our focus and fundraising efforts since then have been on providing these kids with the increased resources they need to stay in school during this pandemic.
As the New Year approached, I was finally able to reconnect with many of the families of kids with special needs I had come to know and love in Rocky Point. I spent our visits feeling heartbroken and incredibly frustrated having to tell these families that they would need to wait indefinitely for us to open C.A.T.I. Meanwhile they spent our visits comforting and reassuring me and telling me that they had faith that we would be able to open soon.
I was so torn.
My head was telling me that we are still in the middle of a pandemic and should absolutely wait to launch C.A.T.I. until we have raised the funds to operate the program for at least a year. But my heart was telling me that these families have waited long enough, and we should not let a pandemic prevent these kids from getting the support they need to develop to their fullest potential.
Quite honestly, my head was winning until I found a note I had received from the mother of the twins I referred to earlier. She sent me the note prior to the pandemic after learning about our plans for C.A.T.I. Translated to English the letter reads:
“Thank you for making us feel as if we matter. We are so grateful that you are going to make what we thought was impossible, possible for our children. God bless you always and we send you an enormous hug.”
At that moment my heart won, and I decided we would not play it safe and wait to open C.A.T.I. The next week I met with my local team and told them that, although we still only had the funds to operate it for a few months, we were going to take “a leap of faith’ and launch the program. On January 19th we did just that.
The opening of C.A.T.I. was a very special and emotional day for my team and I and the many families we can now support.
I really have no words to describe how wonderful and emotional it has been to have this program become a reality. Seeing these families finally getting the consistent support they deserve and have waited so long for has been a dream come true for so many of us. Now we need to work together to ensure that this dream can continue by raising the funds to sustain it.
The families we serve at C.A.T.I. have shown me so much grace, love, and patience through this process--especially, during this pandemic. My hope is to give them a very special gift this Valentine’s Day by raising at least $5,000 in February to support C.A.T.I.—this is the cost to operate the program for one month.
You can make a tax-deductible donation at stepsoflove.org/special-needs
Muchas Gracias and Happy Valentine’s Day!