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Therapeutic interventionist Cody Phillips plays with the children outside at Talitha Koum Institute.

The story of Talitha Koum Institute is always worth sharing and it continues to help at-risk children survive and thrive.

TKI’s mission and its success will be front and center at its third Rise Up! Waco event April 16 at the Baylor Club.

Guest speaker for the gala is Bob Goff, a two-time New York Times best-selling author and “recovering lawyer,” according to his bio.

Goff is well-known, and interest in his appearance allows the gala to move from The Pavilion in Woodway, where it was held the first two years, to the larger Baylor Club, said Talitha Koum Executive Director Susan Cowley.

Cowley said Goff’s perennial messages resonate well with those involved with Talitha Koum Institute.

“Love every one, every time; love means taking action. God wants us to dream big,” Cowley said of Goff’s words.

“We love those messages, because it is very much how Talitha Koum was founded. We were four women who had not one dime and had never heard of a therapeutic nursery when we were told it was what we needed to do for the children in deep poverty in Waco.

“Because we were determined to do the very best for the ‘least of these,’ we had to own a big dream of God and put one foot in front of the other to move in that direction.”

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Motivational speaker and best-selling author Bob Goff will be the guest speaker at the April 16 Rise Up! Waco gala to benefit Talitha Koum Institute.

TKI is in 16th year of serving those children. Talitha Koum’s name is derived from Jesus’ message to Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter in the Book of Mark.

TKI is a mental health, brain development program for extreme-risk children from birth to 5 years old. The idea is to send children to school able to self-regulate their behaviors and be ready to learn.

The institute at 13th Street and Clay Avenue sits in the middle of one of the most impoverished areas of the city, with the Kate Ross Neighborhoods nearby.

The Event

Rise Up! Waco was launched in 2017 to create more awareness for the institute by offering a guest speaker who is an example of a successful adult who grew up in poverty. Pro football star LaDainian Tomlinson, the University High School and TCU standout, was the first speaker. ABC-TV newsman Byron Pitts spoke last year.

Goff has donated all the proceeds of his best-selling books “Everybody Wins” and “Love Does” to help impoverished children around the world.

Ken and Alice Starr are serving as co-chairs for this year’s gala. Rise Up! Waco Steering Committee members along with Cowley in their third year are Barbara Gardell, Kristi Michaelis, Nelwyn Reagan, Tracy Sage, Cindy Smith and Lisa Spitzer, but the group also welcomed new additions in Stone Crandall, Lisa Donahoo, Nancy Minter Garland, Nell Hawkins, Kim Meadors, Elizabeth Oates, Mary Pirelo, Kim Rodriguez and Kyle Stevens.

Ann Harder with KXXV News Channel 25, will emcee the event.

Ongoing Mission

The event raises funds to support Talitha Koum’s mission: “In a context of loving relationship, and using research-based therapeutic intervention, Talitha Koum partners with parents to raise children who are intellectually capable, emotionally resilient and prepared to be contributing members of the community.”

Mentors commit to working with a child from kindergarten to college, serving as their confidant and guide.

Cowley said Rise Up! Waco provides a big boost to TKI.

“Because Talitha Koum is funded 75 percent by local people who want to support our mission, Rise Up! Waco provides another outlet for giving that also comes with a fine speaker and program along with a terrific meal,” she said.

“We do hope to begin a program that helps foster-to-adopt families settle in their trauma-affected child using Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) methods we use inside our Nurture Center program.”

Cowley is particularly excited about the addition of a Brain Maps program.

“It offers a look at each child’s brain development deficits and suggests the interventions we would be able to teach parents to do at home along with the dosage (number of minutes times the number of times per day),” she said.

“In order to begin anything new, a program highly supported by individual donors must remain solid in its funding for the existing program. Rise Up! Waco is part of our sustainability plan.”

One of the four co-founders of TKI is Carol Salvesen, who is the pro bono occupational therapist. Salvesen put more than 200 hours of her donated time into becoming certified in NMT through Dr. Bruce Perry’s Child Trauma Academy.

“She develops a functional brain map that is based on child observations and in-depth interviews with the child’s primary caregivers, including the TKI therapeutic interventionist. Dr. Perry developed the Brain Map process and produced more than 4,000 of them before he ever taught the process to others.”

Utilizing such evidence-based methods to effectively prepare children to grow beyond their economic and societal struggles, Talitha Koum has seen first-hand that success is possible for children living in extreme poverty, Cowley said.

“Birth to 5 is what we so strongly believe in,” she said, referencing data that reveals a child must be reached early in life to deter lifelong impacts of poverty.

Last year the first TKI child who was graduating and heading on to college was recognized at the banquet. This year five graduating seniors from the program will be recognized.

“Small class sizes were in place to be therapeutic, so small groups graduate each year,” Cowley said.”We have not yet had anyone from our program drop out and not graduate.”

Rise Up! Waco

When, where: 6 p.m. April 16 at the Baylor Club at McLane Stadium.

What: Benefit for Talitha Koum Institute. New York Times best-selling author Bob Goff is the guest speaker.


Editor for Waco Today magazine and community editor at the Waco Tribune-Herald