Published by Robert W. Huntley, CFP®, CHFC® and Sidney Meriweather
A life invested in something bigger than self is where true wealth is found.
At Wise Counsel, we want to educate and inspire our clients to “Connect Wealth with Purpose.” We call our planning process “Wealth Designed. Life Defined.” These words are packed with meaning for our team, and they inspired us to launch the “Life Defined” series of client events and profiles.
I’ve observed that in life, a person’s greatest pain often becomes their greatest passion. Each person is born with God-given abilities and passions. Sometimes circumstances take us to the next level, showing us our passionate purpose.
We are pleased to introduce Erin Kiltz, Founder and Executive Director of Brookwood in Georgetown (BiG). Erin is a self-described “desperate mom on a mission.” She wakes up each day knowing her purpose and why her work matters.
I hope you enjoy Erin’s story:
Hi, I’m Erin Kiltz, founder and Executive Director at BiG, but I’m better known as a desperate mom on a mission.
My husband John and I have 3 children: Emily, Riley and our youngest, Gracie. Gracie is 25 and was born with Down Syndrome. When Gracie was 2 she was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of Leukemia. After a year of inpatient chemo, she flatlined due to a triple bacterial infection, and her heart stopped for 20 minutes. By the grace of God, she lived with a very bleak prognosis.
Against everything the neurologists told us to expect, this beautiful smile returned to our Gracie. Fast forward to her senior year, and she was elected 2010 homecoming queen at Georgetown High School.
One week after the homecoming victory, we were in a meeting called an ARD which stands for Admission, Review and Dismissal. All I heard was dismissal, dismissal, dismissal!
In Texas, special needs students don’t age out of the school system until 21, which meant in 3 years Gracie would be sitting home with me doing nothing. That was enough information to launch this mom on a search that would change my life. I thought, there must be some post high school program for adults with special needs.
One of those searches introduced me to the life-changing organization of The Brookwood Community of Brookshire Texas. It was the most beautiful model of community I had ever witnessed and it just happened to be home and workplace to 220 citizens with special needs.
The Brookwood Community is 32 years old and sits on a campus of 475 acres, with 47 production greenhouses, a 5-star café, a fine arts gallery, and a 10,000 sq. ft. gift shop. It was a complete paradigm shift for this population. My world went from “black and white to color”! I couldn’t get enough.
I signed up for tour-after-tour of their facilities, and after the 15th tour I was approached by the, now, Executive Director. I said, “Hi, I’d like Brookwood in Georgetown.” She said, “Great go start something.”
So, in faith, I went to Georgetown ISD and asked to start a program for the special needs students that were aging out of the school system. I agreed to teach pottery, which I had just begun to learn myself. I had no idea what I was doing.
What Brookwood claims really sets them apart is their citizens’ understanding of the free enterprise system, so I decided to test their theory. My class began before Easter, so I decided we’d make crosses. I asked the students, “Do yall want to give these crosses to your parents, or do you want to sell them, make money, and have a pizza party?” They said, “Oh, we want to sell them,” and I thought wow they do understand.
We couldn’t make the crosses fast enough and March of 2011 became Summer of 2011. We had to move the operation into my backyard where the participants rolled out more clay and produced even more pottery.
By Fall of 2011 my program had finally gained Brookwood’s attention. For the first time in 30 years Brookwood allowed another organization to come under their 501(c)(3), and they poured those 30 years of expertise into our leadership team. They allowed us to steward their name which has given us the credibility of a very seasoned, well-oiled machine.
November 1, 2011, we were going to open our doors; we just needed doors to open. The pastor at Georgetown Church of Christ offered us their facilities. For 4 ½ years we had free church space and started with 8 citizens.
This allowed us to really get fundraising under our belt and to gain credibility by meeting the needs in our community. Our citizens went from 8 to 45, and today we have 31 waiting to start. Roughly 17 months ago, we moved into our building on N Church St.
At BiG our mission is two-fold: to provide a very innovative, vocational program for adults with special needs and to change the way the world views this population. We create the environment that facilitates their success.
The citizens might have Autism, Down Syndrome, or a rare degenerative disease, but they desire what we desire which is to find daily meaning, purpose and connect with their community. Here they get an on-site vocational experience where they are celebrated and empowered for their God-given gifts.
We are engaged in 6 different enterprises; our pottery collection being the largest. When someone buys a piece, it’s stamped by who made it, and they get the citizen’s artist card with their bio.
We have an epilogue laser and engraver which allows them to use their computer skills to program designs. We have just started making in-house fudge which is how we’re tying into meaningful corporate giving this holiday season, and we just started making soaps with all natural, essential oils.
Three sources of revenue make up our operational budget: what we make and sell brings in one-third, one-third comes through tuition, and one-third comes through personal donations and grants. Our goal is for what we make and sell to reach 60% of our budget.
Sustainability is something I’m constantly thinking about. Whether it’s our soap or fudge, I’m always considering what product we can make to bring in revenue. We also have opportunities for people to rent out our Café or our greenhouse for private events.
Today we’re expanding our program because we’ll be out of space as of December 31st, 2017. This expansion includes launching a capital campaign to build a new facility next to our greenhouse. We already own the property, but it’s a 2-million-dollar project that will allow us to serve 30 more citizens.
After that project we want to launch the “Bigger Community.” We’re hoping and praying that some generous rancher would give us property. This would be a full-residential community, not just for our citizens but for men and women with functional disabilities as well as those visually and hearing impaired.
Please, help us spread the word. The work going on at BiG is something completely life-changing, and we want as many people as possible to be a part of our work. If you’d like to learn more, please join us by clicking the following link:
The Brookwood Community in Georgetown
Erin Kiltz and Brookwood in Georgetown (BiG) are not affiliated with CWM, LLC and Cetera Advisor Networks LLC.
Securities offered through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through CWM, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Cetera Advisor Networks LLC is under separate ownership from any other named entity.