A classroom in the Brighton Center, Supporting Children with Delays or Disabilities.
A classroom in the Brighton Center, which supports children with developmental delays or disabilities. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

To golf fans who will line the fairways and encircle the greens this week at the Valero Texas Open, it’s an opportunity to see some of their favorite pros and connect with a game they love. To many San Antonio children and families who won’t watch a single drive, chip, or putt, it’s a life-changing event because of the charitable donations the tournament and its associated events generate.

The Valero Texas Open, which begins Thursday at the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, became the fourth PGA tour event to eclipse the $100 million mark in money raised for charity in 2015. Now in its 97th year, the tournament has raised a total of $138 million, becoming a fundraising powerhouse in the past four years with nearly $40 million in donations to charitable organizations.

The money raised through contests, entry fees, and basic donations from individuals and organizations benefits more than 500 charities across South Texas and nationwide, with 52 percent of donations in 2018 going toward education organizations, 26 percent going toward basic needs like food and shelter, and 22 percent toward health-related groups. Of the $12 million the tournament donated to charity in 2018, $4 million came from Birdies for Charity, where donations are solicited from individuals and corporations based on the total number of birdies made in the four-day tournament.

One of the tournament’s beneficiaries is the Brighton Center, which provides counseling, developmental, and education services to children with disabilities. Brighton has used that money to help families deal with monumental challenges that might have swamped them otherwise.

Kosha Vriseno.
Kosha Vriseno. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Ishan Vriseno was born premature and spent the first two years of his life dealing with torticollis, a condition affecting the muscles in the neck that causes the head to tilt to one side and sometimes leads to infants developing a flat spot on their heads.

In addition, he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, which can be associated with autism and ADHD.

Kosha Vriseno and her husband, Tim Vriseno, simply couldn’t afford the mushrooming medical costs and turned to Brighton for help.

Ishan’s mother said she “cannot articulate” how the Brighton Center has helped her son and the entire family over nearly a decade.

“I don’t think Ishan would be as successful as he is today if we didn’t have the support from Brighton,” she said of her son, who is now 9. “It is amazing.”

Kim Jefferies, CEO of the Brighton Center, said her organization helps 3,875 families in San Antonio every year but it continues to have a waiting list. Sixty-five percent of the children the center helps are on Medicaid, but there are many families that don’t qualify for those services and, like the Vrisenos, still need help.

“There is this whole other population of families who are middle income and are just getting squeezed and having to make tough choices like, ‘Do I provide therapy for my child or do I enroll them in an early childhood program?’” Jefferies said. “Because of the funding that we get from the community and events like the Valero Open, we’re able to lift at least that financial burden from those families and say, ‘Now, you don’t have to make those types of choices. Now you get to dream about what you want your child to do and we’ll help you get there.’”

Valero Texas Open spokeswoman Stephanie Sage said there are multiple fundraising efforts around the tournament each year. With Birdies for Charity, eligible nonprofit or school-based organizations simply register with the tournament and donors can pledge directly to them, with the tournament offering a 7 percent match. By the start of tournament week, more than 230 organizations had registered this year.

Birdies for Charity helped 890 patients receive medical treatments in 44 states in 2018, tournament officials said.

The tournament also focuses part of its efforts on organizations benefiting military members and veterans through the Night to Honor Our Heroes gala. This year former President George W. Bush will speak at the event. The Valero Texas Open also has a Women’s Day during tournament week, featuring a guest speaker who is usually allowed to select where money raised during that event goes.

Valero also hosts the Benefit for Children golf tournament, which is held the Monday after the PGA tournament each year. This year 2,400 people will be either playing golf or skeet shooting. Participation comes through sponsorships which run from $2,000 to $300,000 and cover greater numbers of participants depending on the sponsorship level.

Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said millions raised each year at the event goes toward helping San Antonio-area children’s charities as well as charities nominated by any Valero employee at its 15 refineries and 14 ethanol plants.

“We really try to focus on a few criteria like, what is the impact of this donation? What does their current budget look like? Do they have a transparent budget that is easy for us to understand where their funds go and how they receive funds?” Riojas said. “Is their alignment with Valero pillars such as basic needs, access to health care, and education and civic initiatives? With these funds, we really want to target them to a project, not necessarily [administrative] expenses or things like that.

“These funds truly do impact people’s lives.”

Whitney Davis is a 12-year-old San Antonio girl who felt that impact for the first time nearly a decade ago.  Traumatized by her parents’ breakup, she needed therapy and a place where she could feel safe and at ease.

She found it at the The Ecumenical Center, which provides counseling, play therapy, art therapy, and music therapy for children suffering from trauma or learning disabilities.

Davis discovered a love for creating art and was recently invited to provide some of her work to adorn the center’s walls. She also has her sights set on going to college, becoming an anesthesiologist, and one day owning “a Tesla and a Lamborghini,” she said.

“I like it here,” Davis said. “It’s, like, peaceful and fun. It’s very calming.

“I know that the person who was helping me, when we would play games and stuff, it would get my mind off my dad and my mom.”

Mary Beth Fisk

Mary Beth Fisk, CEO and executive director of The Ecumenical Center, said her organization serves approximately 12,000 children and 12,000 adults across South Texas each year through funding it receives through organizations and events such as the Valero Texas Open, which has provided money to the center in each of the past five years.

“It’s a significant gift for us every year,” Fisk said. “The people that we serve, 99 percent of those folks request a subsidy to receive the counseling and health services that they receive. We’re seeing greater numbers who do not have insurance and greater numbers who can’t afford the co-pays even if they do have insurance.”

Sage said tournament officials expect to establish another new single-year fundraising mark this year after last year’s record total.

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Kyle Ringo

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.