Eva’s Heroes – Enriching the Lives of Individuals with Intellectual Special Needs

Many of us first fell in love with Eva Longoria during her portrayal of Gabrielle Solis on the hit TV series Desperate Housewives. Since then the star has gone on to produce, direct and appear in many popular movies and TV shows. However there’s much more to this Texas born beauty than meets the eye. When she isn’t creating magic on camera or dazzling us on the red carpet you’ll find her fighting on behalf of some of the most marginalized people in the country.

Caring for others has been a central part of Eva Longoria’s life from a very early age. She grew up in a household with three sisters, the eldest of which, Elizabeth, was born with Down syndrome. When Elizabeth was a child her doctors weren’t optimistic she could work through her developmental challenges and live a full and meaningful life. Luckily, Eva’s strong-knit family rallied together to learn how to best ensure Elizabeth’s success. In particular, Eva’s mother became a champion for her daughter, working diligently with local community programmes to make sure she received the help she needed. “I was extremely fortunate to grow up with an intellectually disabled sister. My mother became a special education teacher because of her and therefore I have been involved with all facets of this disability since I could walk and talk” shares Longoria.

Today Elizabeth is a highly functional woman with a job, a high school diploma and a sense of independence. Inspired by her sister’s achievements, Eva has made it her mission to provide support for similar young adults across the country. To make this happen, in 2006 Eva cofounded Eva’s Heroes, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of individuals with intellectual special needs. Based in San Antonio, the organization helps teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 overcome their intellectual challenges and better integrate and flourish in society.

Eva’s Hero’s operates a number of programs including Family Activities, a Summer Enrichment Program, Community Activities, an After School Program and SA Sibs — designed for siblings that have brothers or sisters with intellectual special needs. All of the programs provide an inclusive setting built on four tenets: interact, grow, learn, and love. By implementing these four principles these young adults gain confidence, learn how to be responsible, make successful decisions and overcome challenges — allowing them to thrive and become active community members.

Last year the non-profit celebrated its 10th Anniversary with fundraising efforts, a communal picnic and the unveiling of a traveling photography exhibition called “See Us, Hear Us, Know Us.” Presented by Community First Health Plans, the exhibit featured the portraits and stories of 59 participants of Eva’s Heroes as well as an audio component expanding on the participant’s life, theirs goals, and why he or she loves the non-profit. The exhibit — which traveled to more than 45 locations raising awareness — demonstrated to the community the everyday successes and dreams of teens and young adults with intellectual special needs.

It is fitting that the last stop of the exhibit was at the Capitol in Austin, where on January 25, 2017 Eva’s Heroes and 150 supporters converged for the organization’s inaugural “Lobby Day.” There they advocated for individuals with intellectual special needs and raised awareness of programs, support, funding and policies. Participants met advocates from a variety of backgrounds and attended fifty appointments with legislators and staffers.

“Through our collective conversations on Lobby Day, our elected leaders gained a better understanding of the unique needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Shawne Zakaria, Executive Director of Eva’s Heroes. “It is only through raising awareness and advocating for rights and support that we will achieve the acceptance necessary to create inclusive communities.”

Today more than 1900 individuals with intellectual special needs are enrolled in Eva’s Heroes’ programs. But there are still many people in need of help. Autism now affects 1 in 68; cerebral palsy 1 in 323; Down syndrome 1 in 700. In fact, it is estimated that 1–3% of Americans have an intellectual disability.

Eva’s Heroes has the ability to enhance the experience of teens and young adults with special needs through unique programs, education, and realworld socialization in community-based settings. It takes so little to make a big difference. Donate today to help them expand their services. Volunteer, donate and find out more. evasheroes.org.