Back in 1928, a group of 10 show businessmen wanted to help children in need. The result arrived in the form of Variety – the Children’s Charity, which today boasts more than 40 chapters around the world.

Locally, Variety — the Children’s Charity of the Desert found its footing in Coachella Valley in 1987, adhering to the organization’s prime mission: focusing on promoting the “health, mobility, independence and social inclusion of special needs and disadvantaged children throughout the Coachella Valley,” as its website notes.

That assistance provides opportunities for local children to experience myriad childhood joys, including pathways to grow into confident and independent individuals, with plenty of access to all the world offers.

“We’ve been here for 35 years, and we’re now looking to help improve outcomes even more, such as seeing children earlier so we can help identify any concerns,” says Heidi M. Maldoon, Executive Director of Variety’s local chapter. “That can be helping a child improve their situation before they encounter deeper special needs, or continuing offering families a place for adaptive equipment, adaptive services, and special programs.”

Those programs generate a positive ripple effect.

The Freedom Program, for instance, delivers vital equipment and services that assist with mobility, independence, and social inclusion. Thus far, it has delivered more than 70 adaptive bicycles, specialized strollers, wheelchairs, and other mobility aids to children with special needs. About 45 passenger vans, dubbed Sunshine Coaches, were also provided to community partners, such as Angel Views, Boys and Girls Clubs, Family YMCA of the Desert, and other organizations.

Two other programs that stand out are Future Programs and Caring Connections.

The former provides socially-inclusive activities for children with special needs and their families—holiday celebrations, sensory-friendly film screenings, and the like, such as helping children play golf using special equipment that allows them to participate.

Recently Variety — the Children’s Charity of the Desert received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation’s Stebler Fund. Maldoon says the funding will greatly assist the organization with one of its newer programs, Caring Connections, which provides medical equipment and healthcare, and focuses on the well-being of children.

“It’s a beautiful program that supports families wanting the maximum quality of life,” Maldoon shares. “It helps us support children from up to 5 years in age who are at risk of developmental concerns. So, we screen children to make sure they’re meeting milestones. We support them and their families. When there’s any concern, or a parent has a concern, even if it’s not showing up in the screening, we’re able to get early intervention services support. It’s really a springboard for helping a parent make sure their child meets their milestones.”

Additionally, the funds will help Variety bring Caring Connections to outlying communities like Mecca, Coachella, and Desert Hot Springs.

“We’re excited to bring resources to these communities and serve them where they’re at,” Maldoon says. “There’s also an online ability to do the screening, and we’re promoting that opportunity to families so anyone in Coachella Valley in need can access these services.”

She says she’s most proud of how responsive Variety can be and points out the strategic responses the organization takes. During the height of the pandemic, for example, Variety had to pivot its services to make certain families had access to what they needed, like PPEs, referrals, or basic support via Zoom.

“When we advocated for families and stepped in to fill in a gap during COVID-19, we also discovered an entire population of at-risk children—0 to 5 years in age—because of the pandemic,” she says. “We realized a big need for early intervention to help children have better outcomes. That was an important discovery.

“Mostly,” Maldoon adds, “I’d love for people to know we’re able to be an organization that looks to families and can say, ‘What do you need?’”

For more information on Variety— the Children’s Charity of the Desert, visit varietyofthedesert.org.

This article originally appeared in the Desert Sun, September 2022.

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