Strengthen The Good

Using the power of weblogs for open-source charity. Don’t just fight evil: Strengthen the good.

Archive for September, 2004

Strengthening The Good: The Brent Woodall Foundation For Exceptional Children

Update: An email today from Tracy Woodall:

Hi Alan -
Thank you so much! I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you would feature our foundation and try to help us raise money! It really means so much to me and our foundation. All of the board members of my foundation (including myself) do not earn a salary or receive any compensation for our work — we all believe in the mission and do it for free, which can be hard for our members who have other full-time jobs as well! Anyway, any help is HUGE for us since I have been paying for everything out of my own personal funds, which is getting expensive, but well worth it!
thanks so much,
Tracy Woodall

And if you’re a blogger coming to this page for the first time, please consider joining the network. Thanks.]

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I read recently, in the somber flurry of September 11 memorial writing, that September 11 was unique because it reversed the typical order of tragedy in war: rather than it being the parents who sent their children off to face an uncertain fate, on 9/11 it was the children who sent off their parents.

Brent.jpgOne of those children, though not yet born at the time, was Pierce Woodall, daughter of Brent and Tracy Woodall. Tracy was five weeks pregnant on 9.11.01, when she and her unborn child sent Brent, a stock trader, off to work at Bruyette and Woods on the 89th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Tracy was among the thousands of loved ones who had the bittersweet experience of receiving a phone call from WTC that September morning, as Brent called to let her know all was well in his tower. This was to change, however, when the second plane hit.

Tracy finally reached Brent on the 87th floor of the South Tower, where he had reached a locked door. Brent–6-foot-5, handsome, a college athlete at Berkeley and former minor league pitcher for the Cubs–assured his wife of 31 that everything would be all right.

And like so many people that bright clear day, that call was the last time Tracy heard her husband’s voice.

Since that day, much has changed.

On April 22nd 2002, Tracy gave birth to Pierce Ashley Woodall.

She moved back to her home state of Texas to be near family.

And she refused to be ruled by her grief.

Tracy Woodall understood that a sound response to evil is to strengthen that which is good.

Not long before 9/11, Tracy and Brent had started talking about launching a foundation that would provide free care-giving education to families of children with autism. For the less familiar, autism is a neurological disorder that appears during the first three years of life. Estimates are that it occurs in approximately 2 to 6 in 1,000 individuals, and typical characteristics include problems with social relationships and emotional communication. From the Wikipedia entry on autism:

From the start, typically developing infants are social beings. Early in life, they gaze at people, turn toward voices, grasp a finger, and even smile.

In contrast, most autistic children prefer objects to faces and seem to have tremendous difficulty learning to engage in the give-and-take of everyday human interaction. Even in the first few months of life, many do not interact and will avoid eye contact, seeming indifferent to other people.

Autistic children often appear to prefer being alone rather than in the company of others, may resist attention or passively accept such things as hugs and cuddling without caring. Later, they seldom seek comfort or respond to parents’ displays of anger or affection in a typical way. Research has suggested that although autistic children are attached to their parents, their expression of this attachment is unusual and difficult to “read.” To parents, it may seem as if their child is not attached at all. Parents who looked forward to the joys of cuddling, teaching, and playing with their child may feel crushed by this lack of the expected and typical attachment behavior.

Children on the autism spectrum also are slower in learning to interpret what others are thinking and feeling. Subtle social cues – whether a smile, a wink, or a grimace – may have little meaning. To a child who misses these cues, “Come here” always means the same thing, whether the speaker is smiling and extending her arms for a hug or frowning and planting her fists on her hips. Without the ability to interpret gestures and facial expressions, the social world may seem bewildering. To compound the problem, people on the autism spectrum have difficulty seeing things from another person’s perspective. Neurotypical (popularly described as “normal”) 5-year-olds understand that other people have different information, feelings, and goals than they have. An autistic person may lack such understanding, an inability that leaves them unable to predict or understand other people’s actions.

Although not universal, it is common for autistic people also to have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can take the form of “immature” behavior such as crying in class or verbal outbursts that seem inappropriate to those around them. The autistic individual might also be disruptive and physically aggressive at times, making social relationships still more difficult. They have a tendency to “lose control,” particularly when they’re in a strange or overwhelming environment, or when angry and frustrated. They may at times break things, attack others, or hurt themselves. In their frustration, some bang their heads, pull their hair, or bite their arms.

It is a difficult and emotionally painful disorder, for both the children afflicted … who live seemingly trapped and detached in their closed world … and for their parents … who, often anticipating the warm love and emotional give-and-take of parenthood, instead struggle to understand and care for children with whom emotional reciprocation is, at the best distant, and at the worst, nonexistent.

Since college Tracy Woodall had felt her calling was to make a difference in the lives of autistic children. And in the aftermath of 9/11, rather than consider the idea of an autism-related foundation lost, she instead saw hope. From a Dallas Morning News profile on Tracy:

Holding her new daughter, Pierce, in the delivery room, she knew she had to pull herself out of that hole.

“With the grief, it was all very black. I couldn’t see any future,” Mrs. Woodall says. “But right then, I knew I could no longer be an angry, sad person. I had to do whatever I had to do to be happy again.”

She vowed then to combine her dream of working with autistic kids with a commitment to keeping Brent’s memory alive.

Stealing moments between changing diapers and late-night feedings, Mrs. Woodall started putting together a nonprofit foundation in his name.

And with that resolve to create good from evil, the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children was born. The foundation aims to help the youngest children suffering from autism, but with an intelligent twist: in addition to working directly with autistic children, the foundation also trains the parents of foundation children in how to better care for their children once the foundation counselors have left. From the mission page at the foundation website:

Since it is not realistic for the Foundation to provide even modest financial and hands-on technical assistance to all of the families affected by autism, even in the US, the Foundation focuses on a two part plan, with both prongs aimed primarily at the youngest children with autism.

In working with autistic children it is crucial to begin providing proper care, nutrition and technical assistance at the youngest possible age. The greatest impact on such children can be made by age six, and unfortunately it is difficult to diagnose in most cases before eighteen months of age. By working with these children the Foundation can provide the greatest benefit to the most people with any given amount of funding to the Foundation, and also train parents at an early and vulnerable stage how to be more self-sufficient and ask better questions of caregivers.

Both components of the Foundation’s strategy build not only on the expertise of Tracy Woodall and the platform she has developed, but also on the Foundation’s learnings from working under the most difficult conditions with Romanian orphans in an institutional setting inside their own country at Cristi’s Outreach Foundation.

The foundation has already had an impact: on the odds for a reasonable life for autistic children in Romanian orphanages, and on the functional lives of children in the United States … children like Katie Lowe. Part of her story:

Jill Weynert and Christine Lopez, ABA Specialists from New York and ABA consultants for the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children, arrived in Cleveland June 10th after a long work day. I met them at the airport and took them to their hotel. Their enthusiasm was contagious and for the first time since I found out my daughter had autism, I found myself believing that my daughter really would be able to do the things other children can do.

Jill and Christine arrived at our home early the following day and began working with Katie immediately. They assessed her skills and later in the day began working with Katie using the ABA techniques. The changes in Katie were immediate! Many parents mark the major milestones in their child’s life: when she first crawled, walked, said her first word. For the first time in her life, Katie was making a real connection with people around her! That was the biggest milestone! Her smile brightened and she was responding to questions and interacting. That afternoon, she asked her twin brother to play with her for the first time! I just stood there and watched as the tears just ran down my cheeks. We realized that day that Katie’s potential was limitless!

During that weekend, the Woodall Foundation made arrangements for Jill and Christine to work with my husband and me. They reviewed the ABA approach and offered an outline to assist us. The goal was to train us, the parents, to work with Katie on a regular basis. We were so excited and empowered by the knowledge that we could truly make a difference in Katie’s life.

Jill and Christine videoed Katie and kept data on her progress during their ABA sessions with her. Once they arrived home, they sent everything to Tracy Woodall for her to review. After receiving and reviewing everything, Tracy called me and told me the Foundation would like to bring Katie and me to New York City in order to receive more intensive services!

Katie and I arrived in NYC on June 26th. While there, Katie received intensive daily therapy with four ABA Specialists over a two week period which included Jill and Christine and two other amazing ABA consultants. Within the first few days, the changes in Katie were obvious. She was interacting with her peers, responding to requests and expressing so much joy! While there, the ABA Specialists offered me so much advice that when we left to come home, I was able to continue the services …

… The Brent Woodall Foundation and Tracy have changed our lives. All of the ABA Consultants have been true angels to my daughter. We know that without their assistance, we never would have realized our daughter’s potential.

On September 11th, many lives were changed forever. Tracy Woodall chose to take this horrible event and in her beloved husband’s name, she would offer families with Autistic children hope.

woodalllogo.jpgThe intent of Strengthen The Good is to raise awareness of “micro charities”—charitable opportunities that are simple, personal, non-bureaucratic, and inspiring. Charitable opportunities where someone can feel great about giving $1, or even just from reading the story of the charity, it’s sponsors, and it’s beneficiaries.

Tracy Woodall is just such a person, and the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children is just such a charity. September 11, 2001 was an act of extraordinary evil. And three years ago, Tracy’s reaction foreshadowed the idea of Strengthen The Good: use 9/11 and the inhumanity it represents as motivation to give to a worthy cause and the humanity it represents.

So now, one day after the third anniversary of 9/11 and Brent Woodall’s death, Strengthen The Good profiles Tracy Woodall and the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children.

How you can help: First and foremost, you can help by raising awareness. Visit the Foundation online and send the link to anyone and everyone. Tracy’s is a wonderful and inspiring story, and the Foundation can benefit just from having people know of its existence. They also need help with events and volunteers, and you can learn how to get involved with both here.

If you choose to donate money rather than time, you don’t need to give big … just $5, even $1, makes a difference … the Foundation pledges to use donations for:

… launching of our outreach program, expanding our website to electronically process inquiries of need and match those requests with appropriate resources, financial resources for micro grants to families trying to educate themselves to become more self sufficient and further development of training materials for autism therapists.

The foundation is not yet able to accept donations online, so as we did with Hurricane Charley, you may donate via the Strengthen The Good PayPal account … the button is over in the right-hand column. I’ll write a single check to the fund for all donations made via PayPal over the next three weeks, in addition to any revenues from the Google ads over the same period of time. Note that if you do donate via PayPal (1) it’s not tax deductible (although I’m working on that for future charities), and (2) PayPal will be taking a cut of the donation for their service fee … so unless you absolutely don’t want to, I’d suggest donating to the foundation directly via a check sent to this address:

Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children
106 Denton Tap Road
STE 210-PMB 333
Coppell, TX 75019

Finally, you can help by clicking the ads over there in the right-hand column. We donate all ad revenues to the profiled charity, so every click and visit to an advertiser helps at the end of the day.

Now … be responsible. Just because I’ve satisfied my qualification of this charity does not mean you’ve satisfied yours. You are responsible for satisfying your own qualification of this or any other charity STG may point to, and while I am profiling this charity, I do not guarantee its legitimacy, its use of whatever funds you might donate, or the accuracy or of the information on its web site.

Hopefully that’s satisfied the attorneys, and we can get back to the business at hand.

Thank you for reading about Tracy and the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children, and thank you for working to strengthen the good.

Status Report

1 September 2005 Update: If you’ve found this page because you’re looking to help with Katrina relief, or because you’re looking for a matching donation program, please visit our Matching The Good: Katrina Relief page. We’re matching donations up to a total of $1,000 with a donation to the Red Cross 2005 Hurricane fund. If you’d like to join in the match challenge (helping us up the match to more than $1,000) through a donation of your own, please email me at alan at strengthenthegood dot com. Thanks.

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It’s been three weeks and later tonight I’ll be posting our second micro-charity. In the meantime, a brief update on the Strengthen The Good network.

First, we’re now at 195 members … a couple of randomly-selected folks who have recently joined (and whose blogs you should visit): One Perfect Day, Simply Geeky, and Zigzag.

Regarding our first charity, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation Of Venice Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief Fund: The fund first doubled its matching level from $100,000 to $200,000, and then met that level of giving. Our own traffic levels suggest that we created a not insignificant level of awareness for Charley victims. From their site:

Hundreds of individuals and organizations generously reached out to the victims of Hurricane Charley and exceeded the $200,000 matching challenge established by the Board of Directors of Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice. By the first week in September, the community’s contributions exceeded $300,000, including over $40,000 credit card donations made through the Foundation’s Web site.

$40,000 through their website … that’s where we pointed, and I’ll do my best to learn how many contributors cited STG.

We also collected some cash here at STG (although it wasn’t our first preference given our lack of tax-exempt status and PayPal’s commission fees): $86, which after PayPal fees translates into $81.70. We also collected $41.55 in Google ad revenues in the last three weeks. In keeping with my promise to contribute all STG site donations and ad revenues to the currently profiled charity, today I made a $123.25 donation to the GCCF of Venice Charley fund.

Note the contribution from the ad revenues: an easy way to strengthen the good is to click those ads in the right-hand column.

I’ll have the next charity online later tonight; until then, thanks for working to strengthen the good!