Variety: the children’s charity of Wisconsin

When you are an adult thinking about being disabled is total hell. If you once were able to walk, you can’t imagine life without walking. We often see many people in the streets passing by on a wheelchair or using crutches, or with a visible disability. We may feel pity, sadness, motivation or amazement. Either way, we cannot ever put ourselves in their shoes or in the shoes of the family around that same person.

Being handicapped must be as hard as it comes and to really overcome the illness or get to the point where life is enjoyable must be an admirable thing.

In Wisconsin, there is a charity that aims at helping children that are physically disabled and in summary all children, regardless of their ability to do physical activities, to be part of society and to actively participate within the environment and dynamics of communities so they can experience first-hand all the fun and joy that being a child has. Sometimes we think that being physically disabled must be the end of the world. Well, Variety, The Children’s Charity of Wisconsin, is proving everybody wrong by making life fun and joyful for children with different needs.

Let’s take a look at what motivates them to continue the fight after so many years, how the charity started and how they arrived to Wisconsin.

Variety´s work is important because children with disabilities often very bad health outcomes, lower education achievements and higher levels of poverty; because the functionality of a child should be seen in the context he or she lives in and not in isolation. That functionality should be directly related with how the person contributes to the community and how he or she is an active community member; and because according to the world health organization there are 93 million children aged 0 to 14 that live with a moderate or severe disability and the percentage of unmet needs for these children is very high.


It was the year 1928 and it was the 24th of December. The Sheridan Square Theatre in Pittsburgh had just finished one of their plays and was ready to close to go celebrate Christmas with family and friends. But something caught the eye of John H. Harris the manager of the theater. He saw something strange on the stands and went to investigate and for his surprise he found a one-month-old baby girl abandoned there under the seats of the theater. She had a note attached to her that said:

“Please take this baby under your care.  I have named her Catherine and I am leaving her here because for me it is impossible to take care of her since I have 8 other children to look after. My husband is no longer working and we are going through the worst of moments. She was born on Thanksgiving Day and I pray for the goodness of show business and its people so they can take good care of my baby” the note was signed as “A Heart-Broken Mother”

And for show business, this was a task that had to be tackled. The “Variety Club,” was a social club that was created to host meetings for Harris and 10 additional entertainers. The club was not intended for this purpose as it already existed a year before the girl was left on the stands. These men decided to dedicate this club to caring for the baby and came to the conclusion that they had to provide support and education for the baby.

In a funny twist, they named the girl Catherine “Variety” Sheridan in honor of the mother and the venue. While they were caring for Catherine, they realized that there were many other mothers and children that needed help due to the hard times the country was going through.  They found an adoptive family for Catherine but understood that they could do more for other children. They continued to raise money for the cause and soon many other entertainers and people in the show business knew about the amazing work taking place at the variety club and joined in the effort by helping children with needs and disabilities everywhere.


Image courtesy of Unsplash at


7 years after Catherine’s mother left the note at the theater, in 1935 a group of businessmen and entertainers and people that had ties to the show business decided to put up a Variety chapter in Milwaukee. This Variety chapter is what is known as  the “Variety- the Children’s Charity of Wisconsin” charity. Their mission is to give access to  life-enriching assistance and experiences to children that have any kind of physical disability.

Next week we will talk about their programs and how they are helping the community in Wisconsin and in the Midwest.

In the meantime be sure to also read this post about these top 5 giving foundations in Illinois