By Chelsea Jensen
And, they’re off.
As the 20 horses taking part in the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby hit the track Saturday, dozens of Big Islanders took in the show while raising funds to make The Brighter Future Children’s Center a reality.
The Children’s Research Triangle Hawaii is proposing to build the center and program to provide diagnosis and treatment for children with special needs as well as at-risk children, many of whom were exposed to alcohol and/or drugs during pregnancy, saidSharon Bechler, a registered nurse and the nonprofit organization’s state director.
Approximately $5 million needs to be raised to bring The Brighter Future Children’s Center to fruition, she said. The organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has not yet determined whether it will lease space or build from scratch.
On Saturday, the Children’s Research Triangle Hawaii hosted its first fundraising event, a Kentucky Derby Brunch, at the Fairmont Orchid in South Kohala. The four-hour event featured a live-viewing of the race, brunch, silent auction and a contest for “best big hat” and “best dressed.”
Approximately 60 tickets for the event were sold, which will combine with silent auction contributions and other money raised during the event, Bechler said.
Because of donations and contributions, all money raised during the event will go into a fund for the project. An estimate of the total raised was not available as of press time Saturday.
The Children’s Research Triangle Hawaii, based in Waimea, is a branch of the Chicago-based organization Children’s Research Triangle, which is dedicated to the healthy development of children and families, said Bechler.
Over the past five years, the local organization has trained doctors in screening techniques to help them better educate expectant mothers about the impact tobacco, alcohol and/or drugs have on a developing baby.
Use of such substances can result in neurobehavioral difficulties, developmental delays, behavioral, emotional or attachment problems, education or learning disabilities and other conditions that affects their quality of life, according to the organization.
Bechler noted that because the brain does not develop normally, the conditions last throughout life.
Of the 3,153 Big Island women screened to date, 49.5 percent have said they were using alcohol, tobacco and/or marijuana during early pregnancy, Bechler said noting the organization is currently funded via federal grants through the Chicago-based Children’s Research Triangle.
“Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the No. 1 known cause of mental retardation in the United States,” she said. “And, it’s totally preventable.”
Theresa Sasarita del Sol, whose 10-year-old grandson faces an array of issues stemming from drug use during pregnancy, said such a center is greatly needed to help families and children learn to cope and thrive with the condition. Education is also important to prevent the issue in the first place, she added.
“These babies are challenged because their brain is not normal — and that is no fault of their own,” she said. “But, as responsible adults we need to do something to help in this area to help them cope with the challenges as they progress in age.”
For more information on the organization or to donate visit crthawaii.org. Tax deductible donations can also be made to CRT Hawaii and mailed to P.O. Box 6634, Kamuela, HI 96743.
Email Chelsea Jensen at email@example.com.