Before she became a staff member at Variety Detroit, Michelle Murphy was a parent who turned to the nonprofit for help.
Variety – the Children’s Charity Detroit is part of an international organization with 50 offices throughout the world. The organization originally formed in 1927 after a desperate mother had abandoned a baby girl on the steps of the Sheridan Square Theatre in Pittsburgh. The 11-member social club of theater owners and performers that found the child decided to care for her as a collective. She was named Catherine Variety Sheridan — “Catherine,” the name given to her according to the note left by her mother; “Variety” for the club that cared for her; and “Sheridan” for the theater where she was found.
Variety focuses on multiple unmet needs of children who are sick, disadvantaged, live with disabilities or have other special needs. According to their mission statement, their aim is to maximize the real, long-term positive social impact for all children.
“Part of our mission is to support happier, healthier, and more independent futures for kids, and provide as many happy, healthy milestone experiences as we can,” says Murphy, now Variety Detroit executive director.
Detroit was the fifth office to be established worldwide, operating since 1932. They are currently based in Birmingham and serve 20,000 kids annually through six programs that aim to fill a variety of needs.
Caring for Children
Murphy sought assistance from Variety Detroit after her daughter was born in 2006 without a left hand and forearm.
One of Variety Detroit’s longest-running programs is the Variety Myoelectric Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital. It’s the only comprehensive center in North America that provides state-of-the-art upper limb prostheses, as well as the medical care and therapy services associated with them and the funding to support it all, to children with limb deficiencies.
“Many insurance companies consider (these types of prostheses) a luxury and won’t cover them,” Murphy says. “Each limb costs upwards of $25,000 and the kids outgrow them the way kids outgrow shoes.”
That means they have to be re-fitted and the prostheses replaced — frequently.
Through Variety, Murphy’s daughter was able to get a myoelectric arm, which is an artificial limb that can be controlled with electrical signals generated by muscles.
“She’s now 12, plays tennis and is able to do all the things other kids her age do,” Murphy says.
Kids start in the program when they are very young. In partnership with Beaumont, Variety is able to keep costs down and service as many children as it does by maintaining an extensive “limb bank” of component parts that can be rebuilt and reused in new prostheses. Variety pays for the cost of components beyond what insurance will cover, and therapy.
Another popular offering is the Variety 4-H Handicap Horseback Riding Program providing equestrian therapy to children with behavioral, developmental and/or physical challenges at Bloomfield Open Hunt Club. The goal is to build the self-image and self-confidence of each individual rider.
Similarly, the Variety Bikes for Kids Program provides bikes to children who may have never had one before.
During the holidays, more than 150 children are given bikes with locks and helmets. Variety also works with physicians on a select number of modified bicycles to give to children with special needs.
Variety’s newest program is called Variety Feeds Kids, providing weekend meals to now 1,800 children in the Pontiac School District in partnership with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. This program was founded six years ago by past Variety board presidents Connie Beckett and Kelly Shuert upon learning that children in the school district who were provided breakfast and lunch through their schools on weekdays were often going hungry on weekends. Now volunteers pack food for four Pontiac schools. It’s then distributed by law enforcement officials.
“We couldn’t do this without the support of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, particularly Sheriff Mike Bouchard,” Murphy says. “Meijer has also been a fantastic advocate and supporter of this program; we couldn’t do it without them.”
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard shares Murphy’s appreciation of the partnership.
“They help meet a very important need in the community,” he says. “By partnering with them, there is a tremendous amount of benefits for us: We’re building new and deepening relationships with young people, which is obviously a big part of community policing.”
Reaching Across the Region
Variety’s other two core programs are K.I.D.S. — Kids in Distressed Situations — and the Variety Produce Rescue Mission.
K.I.D.S. provides children across southeastern Michigan with donations of new clothing, bedding, shoes, backpacks, toys, baby books and more, distributed through a large network of more than 30 grassroots nonprofits in metro Detroit that make sure those products are delivered swiftly and to those who need them most. Variety oversees and distributes more than $1 million in product through this program.
The Variety Produce Rescue Mission provides fresh fruit and vegetables to families in need that are procured through the Detroit Union Produce Terminal. Fresh, nutritious produce that would otherwise be thrown out is procured and distributed across five county areas through relief agencies, soup kitchens, shelters and outreach centers.
“Children really drive what we do,” Murphy says. “We like to say we’re small enough to listen and big enough to make a difference. We’re able to get a pulse on community needs through our community partnerships and come up with ways to service those children.”
Variety is run by a staff of two, including Murphy. She praises their “fantastic board,” currently led by Lois Shaevsky, who generously donate their time and are very much involved and engaged in the organization’s work.
“We really rely on the energy and efforts of our board to identify needs, raise awareness and bring interested people to the charity,” Murphy says. “We receive no federal or state funding, nothing from United Way. We really rely on support from partners and private donations.”
Variety also hosts a number of fundraisers throughout the year, including a signature gala in May and a golf outing in June.
To learn more about their programs and support their efforts, visit variety-detroit.com.