If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or have taken for granted the very act of being able to walk, then you may recognize how Paul and Michelle Tesori came up with the idea for a fundraising campaign for their charitable organization, the Tesori Family Foundation (www.tesorifamilyfoundation.org).
The Ponte Vedra couple’s 2-year-old son, Isaiah, who has Down syndrome, had just begun learning to walk, prompting them to wonder what it must be like for their son to tackle that challenge. The Tesoris then came up with the idea of using Paul Tesori’s role as a PGA Tour caddie to raise money for their foundation.
Through “A Mile in My Shoes,” Tesori will track the mileage he walks in the 2016 portion of the 2015-2016 PGA Tour wrap-around season. Donors can pledge to make a donation based on the number of miles Tesori ends up walking this year. At the end of April, Tesori had already logged 339.1 miles and still has about six months of the season to go. Anyone who pledges before June 1 can guess how many total miles they think he will walk, and the winner will receive a 2017 TPC Experience Package worth more than $5,000. The package includes round-trip airfare for two anywhere JetBlue flies, two weekly passes to the 2017 PLAYERS Championship, gift certificates, pampering packages and more.
“We had set a goal of $5,000, and I believe we’ve doubled that already,” Michelle Tesori said. “Our hope now is to raise $15,000 to $20,000 for our special needs program through this mile in my shoes campaign.”
Donors may make a pledge per mile walked, she said, or simply make a flat donation, with the funds raised going directly to special needs programs.
The Tesoris founded the Tesori Family Foundation in 2009 based on a mutual interest in charitable organizations and giving back to the community. The mission of the foundation is to achieve great things for God by lending a helping hand, providing hope and healing hearts for children.
In addition to supporting more than 20 local and national nonprofits, the foundation also partners with charities for events such as the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine, an annual prom held in more than 200 churches in 48 states and seven countries around the world; and Hope for the Holidays, which provides aid to the homeless at Christmastime in conjunction with the St. Johns County Emergency Services Homeless Coalition.
The foundation has also pioneered a way to welcome new families into the Down syndrome community through “Buddy Baskets.” When a family receives a diagnosis that their child has Down syndrome, the foundation steps in and offers families a customized basket of goodies which includes a free professional newborn photography session – something Tesori noted can be easily overlooked when a family is caught up in a diagnosis and medical care for their newborn. The baskets also include massages for the parents, tailored gifts for the siblings, gift certificates to the families’ favorite restaurants, and more.
It’s a program, Tesori said, she is hoping will be picked up in a couple of major cities in the United States as the benchmark for the Down syndrome community as to how to welcome new families. Currently, the program is available to families in Northeast Florida and southern Georgia.
Holly and Chris Bishop of Jacksonville were the first recipients of a Buddy Basket after the program was launched a little over a year ago. Their son, Beckett, was born in February 2015 and has Down syndrome.
“One morning, after Michelle called me, I was able to enjoy about a two-hour conversation with her and she just basically, gently pulled me into the Down syndrome world,” Holly Bishop said. “Mother to mother, she was able to really get on the same level with me and help me feel better, that I’m not alone.
“Really the baskets were not even the whole thing,” she continued. “It was the support that came with it and to see all of the people that it took to create the buddy baskets – all of the different people that donated and gave their money or spent time hand-crafting the things that went in the basket is really what was the most touching part about it all.”
In addition to Buddy Baskets, families can also join a private Facebook page the foundation set up where families can support each other. The foundation also organizes events for the families, such as an annual Christmas party and first birthday celebrations. Visitors to the website can also fill out a prayer request form to join its prayer network.
“We get requests from all over the world,” Tesori said. “It’s really amazing, and then if they give us permission to share, then we will share on our Facebook page, on our Twitter handle and just engage the world in prayer for someone’s specific prayer request,” Tesori said.