By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
For 83 years, Variety, The Children’s Charity, has been providing medical equipment, therapy and other services to children with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Until 2000, the majority of the agency’s funds came from the Variety Club Telethon televised on broadcast stations nationwide and featuring stars from screen and stage. Since then, Variety, a 2015 TORCH Award winner, has raised money through special events during Variety Week in April. Other events, such as a trivia night, are scattered throughout the year. The organization dropped “club” from its name several years ago.
Variety’s ties to celebrity endorsers stem from its beginnings – raising money for a child abandoned in a theater, said Jan Albus, chief executive. The agency now has 41 chapters worldwide, including 23 in the United States.
Variety provides services to approximately a quarter of the 39,000 children with disabilities in its service area, which includes 30 counties surrounding St. Louis in Missouri and Illinois. The services are designed to help children reach their full potential by building their self-esteem, skills, socialization and independence. Variety does pre- and post-treatment surveys to determine how the services meet those goals.
Its programs are organized under the acronym TREES, which stands for therapy, recreation, education, equipment and 100 Sunshine Coach vans that its 60 partner agencies use to transport children to doctor appointments, therapy sessions and outings.
Two of the programs it runs independently are Variety Children’s Theater and Variety Adventure Camp, a four-week summer day camp and one week in the winter for children with disabilities.
Variety Children’s Theatre puts on a yearly musical at the Touhill. Professional actors work with children from Variety’s Children’s Chorus in front of a live orchestra. Variety teens intern with backstage professionals in lighting, set design, costumes and more. Approximately 1,500 disabled children are among the 7,000 people who attend the performances every year. The program has earned three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Variety Adventure Camp counselors work one-on-one with the children as they participate in swimming, rock-climbing, dance and sports. Therapists also work with the children. The camp serves 85 children and has a waiting list of 65.
“We send the children home tired and dirty,” said Albus. The popular camp has expanded over the years from five days to the current five-week program.
Variety has a full-time staff of 18 who work in development, communications and administration, which includes placing children in the services they need. Variety also hires staff as needed for its programs, such as the 65 people hired for the camp.
Variety staff engage in a variety of educational and team-building activities through the year, including seminars, webinars and national conferences.
“We try to put together a career path for everyone who is here,” Albus said. Many of its staff have long tenure with the agency, including six with 15 or more years. “We’re proud that we’re able to sustain our expert staff,” she said.
Variety values its BBB Accreditation because it conveys the transparency that donors want, Albus said.
“People automatically think the money they give you is being spent on the children,” Albus said. “It’s important to be able to show them what you’re doing with their money.”
Variety would like for its services to reach more children, but it also wants to be sure it’s doing the best for the ones it already serves, she said. “Our vision statement has the aim to reach all the children in our service area. Because we have that vision, we keep growing.”
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.