KXAN (Austin) — Two different communities, one shines in bringing people together through fitness, and the other is driven to cultivate a statewide family for some of Texas’ most vulnerable.

“We have a single mission which is to ensure children with developmental disabilities grow up in loving families instead of institutions,” Elizabeth Tucker said, Executive Director of EveryChild, Inc.

Miles away from her office is an unsuspecting warehouse-type building where people come to work on their fitness and leave with a new mindset.

“Every step, the intention is coming from the ground up so, we are building a really strong foundation through the foot first,” Dave Nuzzolo, a personal trainer with Squatch Frontier Fitness, is talking about the sled push exercise. The foundation he is talking about is key – it pushes you to go further – and gain momentum on the sled. It’s this type of mindset that the group of fitness enthusiasts are using to help others.

The Squatch team came up with the Santa Sled Challenge to leverage the holiday spirit and apply the joy of the season towards a good cause.

The challenge is simple. First you get a sponsor, and the sponsor will agree to pay a certain amount of money for every yard you push the sled. The goal for the participant is to push the sled for 30 minutes and reach 1,000 yards.

Don’t let the sled intimidate you.

Dave Nuzzolo, a personal trainer with Squatch Frontier Fitness, helped develop a sled challenge to help Texas families stay together. (KXAN/Jose Torres)

“We train with the sleds here for a variety of reasons one of them is that they are very accessible you can really scale a sled to the point where it can be an 80-year-old grandma that’s working on it or a professional linebacker,” Nuzzolo explained.

The proceeds will go to Every Child Texas, a group focused on keeping families together.

“EveryChild is a nonprofit that was created by families and advocates to develop family alternatives to placing children with developmental disabilities in facilities,” Tucker said.

There are hundreds of cases of parents split from their children. Some have to drive eight hours to leave their child in one of those facilities. And then it may take weeks or months before families can get to see them again. The nonprofit steps in by finding support families across Texas but the group needs funding.

KXAN producer Jose Torres spoke with Elizabeth Tucker, the executive director of Every Child Texas, to get a better understanding of how fundraisers like the Santa Sled Challenge can push the nonprofit to excel in keeping families together.

Torres: What does Every Child Texas do?

Tucker: We have helped hundreds of children throughout Texas move from facilities to loving families. Some of the children return home with supports and services and some move to Support Families that are carefully recruited and trained based on the needs of the child and the preferences of the child’s family. The two families then share in the care of the child. Many of the children need additional support in the home such as nursing, medical equipment and home modifications. We also work with state agencies to change and create policies that better support children with disabilities to grow up in families.

Torres: How are families affected when they don’t have the resources you provide?

Tucker: When we first started our work of ensuring children with developmental disabilities grew up in families, there were more than 1,600 children living in facilities such as nursing homes and group homes. After years of hard work, the development of family-based options as an alternative to facility care, and changes to state programs, there are now approximately 950 children living in facilities. This is a decrease of 69% even considering some children are still being admitted. Approximately 67% of the children moved to a Support Family instead of home.

There are families in Texas who are struggling and waiting for services and who are forced to consider facility-based placement when they are in a crisis. Sometimes placement is hours away from their home. We are small and are not able to help all the families in need. Sometimes we are not even aware a family is in need until the child is placed out of the home.

Torres: Why are you passionate about the organization?

Tucker: EveryChild has been described by many as a small, but mighty organization. We have a single mission which is to ensure children with developmental disabilities grow up in loving families instead of institutions. We have a tremendous team of dedicated individuals who do whatever it takes to make sure children and families are successful. I got a note from a disability advocate who moved from Texas some years ago that said “I always think of EveryChild when I think of the best in Texas.” This is how I feel about the organization. Children thrive when they are surrounded and cared for in a loving family.

Torres: Why is a fundraiser like the Santa Sled Challenge important and where does the group get its main funding?

Tucker: EveryChild gets most of our funds from the state of Texas which is committed to making sure children and families are supported. However, our funding has been flat since 2015. We need funds to recruit more Support Families and to help support a child’s family get the things they need to bring their child home.

Click here to donate or participate in the Santa Sled Challenge and learn more about the families the nonprofit helps.