From providing all-inclusive playground equipment to giving bikes to kids who have never had one, Des Moines-based Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa is dedicated to improving the lives of children who are at-risk, underprivileged, critically ill or living with special needs. Since it was founded in 1975, The nonprofit has raised more than $119 million to support the children of Iowa.
Here, Carly Severson, public relations specialist, and Sheri McMichael, executive director, discuss how readers can help Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa, the importance of outdoor play and one special little boy named Charlie.
Can you speak to the importance of providing things like helmets and all-inclusive playground equipment to the children you serve?
CS: Variety firmly believes that all children should have the chance to play on a playground. With that said, the majority of playgrounds in Iowa do not offer adaptations for children living with special needs. Providing playgrounds for children of all abilities to play together helps promote play, healthy physical activity and learning for all children. Outdoor play experiences provide the perfect opportunity to support inclusive play by creating awareness, breaking down barriers and fostering friendships.
Variety provides traditional bikes and helmets to kids who have never owned their own bike before, as well as adaptive mobility equipment to children living with special needs. This mobility equipment includes adaptive bikes, gait trainers, standers, mobile standers, specialized strollers, specialized car seats and more. What started as a program offering adaptive bikes has expanded to fit the growing needs of children in our communities. Adaptive mobility equipment helps children living with special needs gain mobility, confidence, freedom, independence and the chance to join in the life of their community.
What is the greatest reward in being involved with Variety – the Children’s Charity? What about the biggest challenge?
SM: The greatest reward is seeing the impact that Variety’s dollars make in our community. These include grants, traditional bikes, mobility equipment for children living with special needs, Variety vans, inclusive playgrounds and more. Variety constantly learns of ways that dollars and efforts have impacted children. The biggest challenge recently has been pivoting our fundraising efforts as we navigate this new environment.
CS: In a traditional year, Variety would host in-person fundraising events, but given our current environment, we have needed to be creative in finding different ways to continue raising dollars. While it has been a challenge, we are grateful to have found success in fundraising so we can continue giving back to our community.
Are the needs of the nonprofit different now than what they were when it was founded in 1975?
SM: The needs in our community have always been present, but as society has changed, the needs became greater relating to after school programs, mental health services, inclusion efforts and more.
How have the needs of Variety – the Children’s Charity evolved during the pandemic?
CS: Many children and nonprofit organizations faced difficulties in 2020 that many have never faced before. This made it more important than ever for Variety to expand its reach and help improve the lives of more children facing hardships. Variety provided grants to 20 children’s organizations in eastern Iowa in 2020, totaling over $171,000. These grants to children’s nonprofit organizations were crucial in making sure children still have the resources that they need to reach their full potential. Additionally, Variety provided more pieces of adaptive mobility equipment to children living with special needs in 2020 than any other year on record. Many children in 2020 faced a period of time where they were unable to visit their physical therapists for treatment in-person. Having their own adaptive mobility equipment at home allowed them to continue their physical therapy treatment in a safe manner, while also bringing smiles to their faces.
Is there a memorable anecdote that you can share regarding a child who has been impacted by Variety – the Children’s Charity?
SM: There are so, so many, but a more recent story is about the impact that a gait trainer had on Charlie’s life. Charlie experienced hypothermia when he was seven days old and was diagnosed with septicemia and possible bacterial meningitis. Charlie has a history of hypotonia and developmental delay, and he has had multiple hospitalizations for RSV and fevers. Charlie did not have the strength in his legs to walk independently. Variety provided Charlie with his gait trainer, and he immediately began walking with the support of this piece of equipment. Within six months, Charlie was walking up to a mile a day with his gait trainer, building strength in his legs and experiencing independence. A year later, Charlie has begun taking his first independent steps – a huge development. The gait trainer provided him with the opportunity to help develop his leg muscles which has led to his independence. There is more work to be done, but Charlie continues to gain the confidence to walk without his gait trainers or parents for support.
Are there any fundraising events planned for the next few months?
SM: As of now, we are moving forward planning our outdoor fundraising events. While we may need to make some adjustments due to restrictions, we also know that we need to continue raising dollars, as kids in our community need Variety’s support more than ever.
What are your goals for 2021?
SM: Variety’s goals are to continue raising dollars and impacting the community. 2020 was a year like no other. Families and children were impacted in so many different ways – education, mental health, socialization, food insecurity and more. Variety will do whatever it can to continue providing support for these children.
How can readers help?
SM: Learn more about Variety – the Children’s Charity at varietyiowa.com. Volunteer for a fundraising event, and/or a planning committee for our fundraising event. Support Variety through a donation. Every dollar matters, and no gift is too small. Spread the word about Variety and its work with family, friends and co-workers.