Big Hearts

By Robert Lake
[email protected]

Isabel Huerta believes in angels.

She’s the director of a small, non-profit charity, Sammy’s House, that serves families with special needs kids in the Austin, Texas, area. Her operation runs on a shoe string. Like many people trying to make a difference, she’s got to balance her work with the kids with the reality of paying the bills.

Sammy’s House, named after her son Sammy Huerta, who was born medically fragile with Down Syndrome and died at age 8 months, is a developmental childcare center for special needs and typical children 8 weeks to 3 years old. Established in November 1999, Sammy’s House began offering daycare in the home of Isabel and Julian Huerta and has expanded into a licensed facility that offers respite care, medical equipment services and therapeutic toys and device rentals along with medical care, training, information and support.

As they’ve continued to expand, so have their financial needs. But a series of fortunate events led to a saving grace for Isabel – in the form of NASCAR, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores and Wide Open Performance Inc., a company that makes the popular Wide Open Energy drink, the official drink of Lucas Racing. All three organizations have corporate missions to give back to local communities in the form of national charities, but when this small struggling charity’s needs became known, they worked together to get the word out. The result was beyond the Huertas’ wildest imagination.

The Sammy’s House logo was featured on the #4 Morgan-McClure/Lucas Oil racing car in the Nextel cup race on April 17 at the Texas Motor Speedway. Tom Underdahl, president of Wide Open Performance, has agreed to give advertising space on the race car along with a percentage of Wide Open Energy drink sales and a cash donation to Sammy’s House.

Dave Frankenfield, director of facility revenue for Love’s Travel Stops, where the energy drink is sold to truckers, says his efforts to bring this about are in keeping with Love’s nationwide commitment to charities that help children. “It takes a lot of people working together to help such a worthwhile organization as Sammy’s House,” he says.

Huerta is overcome with gratitude. “It’s a miracle, really. These kids need so much, and there’s just so much we can do without further funding,” she says. “They are angels.”

It’s no surprise that this industry is generous, especially toward kids. And sometimes, it’s nice to shine the spotlight on a compassionate story where the kids come out ahead.

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