BIRMINGHAM — It’s been less than a year since Michelle Soto founded the Wish Upon a Teen foundation. The jet-setting advocate has worked for a number of child care organizations across the country, including UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and the Gift of Adoption agency. It was her love of children that prompted her to start an organization that caters to children who are often left out of other initiatives.
“The kids we serve don’t have to be medically fragile, we have a broad range. Teenagers can get left behind. A lot of people want to help the cute little kids or just sick kids, and that’s really sad,” said Soto.
Wish Upon a Teen works with teens who have experienced life-altering events, from illness to foster care to mental or physical disabilities. The Detroit and Los Angeles-based foundation groups teens in similar situations together and takes them on outings designed to promote bonding and healing.
In the foundation’s short time, Soto has planned a number of activities for the participating youths. She arranged a spa day for girls battling cancer, where the teens had a chance to get manicures, pedicures and other services, all the while talking with each other, developing friendships and enjoying normal teenage activities. She’s also planned team-building days with obstacle courses and rock climbing for boys and girls who’ve been victims of bullying, as well as a trip to the Local 4 News studio in Detroit, where a group of autistic teens will get to watch a live taping and have a Q-and-A session with reporter Andrew Humphrey.
“They just need a safe environment,” said Soto. “People will say to me, ‘Well, you’re just taking them bowling.’ Yes and no. We’re setting them up to help each other.”
With so many activities on the agenda and so many teens to be helped, Soto thought it was time to bring some much needed funding to the nonprofit. That’s why she organized the foundation’s first major fundraiser for Feb. 18 at Barrio Tacos & Tequila. The first Dealing with the Stars event will feature Las Vegas-style casino games manned by local celebrities, including Rhonda Walker, Andrew Humphrey, Ben Sharkey, Dennis Archer Jr. and more. Not to worry — no real money will be exchanged in the games, and professional dealers will be on hand to supervise the celebs.
When guests aren’t busy trying their luck at the tables, they can enjoy the music of a DJ, hit the cash bar, or peruse the food stations stocked with Mexican favorites from Barrio, which donated the space for the evening. Carrie Doelle is co-owner of the restaurant along with her husband, Eric. The two met when they were teenagers, and Carrie Doelle said that’s one of the reasons she’s so excited to offer up the facility for the evening.
“It’s important in this day and age that teenagers have someone to talk to and somewhere to go to participate in teenage activities. My husband and I want to support it, and one of the ways we can do that is through our restaurant. If we can get people to come to a fundraiser and enjoy themselves, then I believe they’ll be more likely to help in the future,” she said.
Soto hopes that the first-ever event will be a success because the mission of Wish Upon a Teen is an admirable one, and in her opinion, one that many can relate to.
“Every one of us can come up with something that happened to us in our teenage years that still affects us. What may be awful to you may not be awful to me, and vice versa. It’s no one’s place to judge, let’s just help them,” she said. “It takes education to the community to realize that every child deserves the same opportunities.”
Tickets for Dealing with the Stars are $100 per person, which includes $500 in gaming chips. To purchase tickets, find out more about the event or to learn more about Wish Upon a Teen, visit www.WishUponATeen.org. Barrio Tacos & Tequila is located at 203 Hamilton Row in Birmingham.
Published: January 31, 2012
Credit: Tiffany Esshaki, C & G Staff Writer