NONPROFIT PLANS TO TARGET MORE INDIVIDUALS, FACILITIES IN NEED
Bryan Townsend considers himself lucky because he can pinpoint the exact moment his life changed.
Unemployed from the spirits industry, the Richardson resident decided to certify his yellow Labrador as a therapy dog so he could volunteer his time cheering up children at the hospital.
Near the end of his first visit to Our Children’s House in Grapevine, Townsend witnessed a girl having a therapy breakthrough thanks to his furry friend.
“I started putting [treats] in her hand and Trigger was licking them out,” Townsend recalls. “Then, all of a sudden she starts reaching in the bag and is giving him the treats. It was just this instant connection that happened.”
From there, the girl, who had been in tears before, started progressing through her therapy session.
“The one thing we realized early on, when a child is in the hospital, the family is in the hospital.”
The interaction marked a defining moment for Townsend.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, but I knew that this was something special I should do,” he said.
That visit became the inspiration for Trigger’s Toys in 2009, which Bryan co-founded with his wife, Stacey.
NONPROFIT FINDS ITS NICHE IN HELPING CHILDREN, FAMILIES
At first, the nonprofit focused on helping with a Christmas event at Our Children’s House in Dallas complete with toys, crafts, Santa, and — of course — a visit from Trigger.
“It sounds like a little thing … but I’ve had parents that start bawling because their child with autism was able to get their first picture with Santa ever,” said Dana Walsh, senior director for physical medicine and rehabilitation at Children’s Health.
Walsh said Trigger’s Toys has helped the pediatric medical facility scale up the event including offering a gift for each child.
“It’s really a special event and [Bryan’s] group, Trigger’s Toys, has made it even more special to us, getting it to that next level,” she said.
Townsend also works with nurses to get wish lists from the children and their siblings, so they could receive more gifts on Christmas morning.
“The one thing we realized early on, when a child is in the hospital, the family is in the hospital,” Townsend said.
And the needs go beyond toys and the holidays.
From specialized walkers for kids born without forearms to a mechanical wheelchair for a paralyzed child, Trigger’s Toys has funded various medical equipment for individuals and facilities over the years. It’s also provided financial assistance for families struggling with mounds of medical bills.
“We can’t help everybody … but we can do our best to spread the word that this is unacceptable and that if people would really get involved, we could change our community,” Townsend said.
EXPANDING FOCUS, AMPING UP SUPPORT
This year, the nonprofit launched a scholarship program to target families in financial need. There haven’t been any recipients yet, but Townsend hopes to award some soon.
“I want to find people directly as much as I can and hear their story and find out how we can help them,” he said.
He’s also working to strike support partnerships with under-funded facilities and specific programs in the area. Currently, he’s in talks with Bryan’s House, which has increased those it serves by 74 percent this year.
In May, it began opening new classes for children 18 months and younger in its Early Childhood Education program.
“We’ve got some great funders, but we need Trigger’s Toys to help us bring down the waiting list. We have nine babies [on it] right now,” said Abigail Erickson, executive director of Bryan’s House.
The Dallas-based nonprofit originated in the late 1980s to care for children with HIV/AIDS. It’s since expanded its mission to serve children with other medical needs such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. Erickson said Bryan’s House sets itself apart from other organizations in the way it packages its services.
“Dallas has always taken care of me. … and I feel like I need to take care of it a little bit if I have the means to do it.”
“Nobody else provides the combined services we do — the case work, the housing, the family supportive services, and then the direct care with the therapies on-site,” Erickson said.
Since Erickson came on board as executive director 11 months ago, she’s worked to develop more community partnerships and decrease the nonprofit’s reliance on government funding.
Townsend also is working to diversify funding for Trigger’s Toys. Most of the nonprofit’s budget comes from its annual Ultimate Cocktail Experience event. Townsend, who serves as vice president of sales for The 86 Co., gathers bartenders and distributors together for a night of fundraising. This year’s event, held Nov. 5 at Klyde Warren Park, raised $200,000.
He’d like to hold more events and also find regular donors to help spread fundraising throughout the year. Eventually, Townsend envisions raising millions of dollars and possibly expanding Trigger’s Toys to other major Texas cities.
But, first he wants to take care of children and families here at home.
“Dallas has always taken care of me. … and I feel like I need to take care of it a little bit if I have the means to do it,” Townsend said.
Delivering what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth innovation, every day. Get the Dallas Innovates e-newsletter.