CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence here has shared exciting news with its community: the Chick-fil-A True Inspiration Award for 2023.
SADI is one of 22 such services in Missouri designed to enable people with disabilities to live comfortably and independently at home. The organization had help in becoming selected for the prestigious True Inspiration Award: SADI Executive Director Donna Thompson says she received a surprise email from Cape Girardeau Chick-fil-A owner Brian House, who informed her he had nominated SADI for the award.
House told The Heartlander out of 2,450 other organizations that signed up, only 45 were chosen to win $30,000 in cash awards – and only one earned the grand prize of $350,000.
The citizens of Cape Girardeau were urged to vote for their local independent living organization, and Thompson says the community responded with an abundance of votes – bringing in enough to make SADI the grand prize winner of $350,000.
House knew SADI had been selected for a generous amount, but initially thought it was only going to receive $30,000. He was asked to keep the big win a secret.
When the company informed House that SADI had actually won the grand prize of $350,000, he says he lost it, breaking down and with happy tears because the organization means so much to him and his family.
House’s daughter Carley attends a program at SADI referred to as Dayhab.
“I tell everybody, when you find a facility that loves your children as much as you do and you feel safe, you can’t put a price on that,” House said. “When I drop Carley off, I know she is safe and they love her. The staff there pour their heart and souls into those kids to the point that they spend their own money trying to make it better for them.
“That is just so comforting and refreshing, to see how much they put into our children there. The trust is amazing.”
Last November a production crew showed up at SADI and began setting up an array of cameras and a maze of equipment. Chick-fil-A organizers told SADI they were there to have a planting party with consumers for a future sensory garden. Thompson was still under the impression that SADI would be presented with a $30,000 check during the event.
“The back room looked like an FBI headquarters,” Thompson said with a chuckle. “They had laptops and cameras. They came out to present the $350,000 check and surprised us. Two dancing cows came out with the check, and everyone kind of went crazy. We all cried, and it was just mind-blowing because we had no idea.”
Thompson says even before Carley House began attending Dayhab, her father was always kind to SADI. The Chick-fil-A restaurant owned by House was well-known for donating free food to the organization while other restaurants would often charge.
SADI plans to spend the grant money on a new sensory garden this spring. The garden will include swings, a water feature, raised garden, pavilion and an assortment of activities for consumers.
“Those are all things that will help them with their physical being. We believe in the holistic approach so we want to reach their mind and body to exercise both. We also plan to expand our Dayhab services into a larger room that we have, so we can give them more space and activities to do,” Thompson said.
Extra funds will go toward a much-needed building expansion for SADI.
The annual Chick-fil-A grant award program was created in 2015 as a way to honor the legacy of founder S. Truett Cathy while also supporting nonprofit organizations who are making an impact inside their community. Every year, Chick-fil-A awards $5 million to help nonprofit organizations across the U.S. and Canada.