Eva featured in the March 2012 issue of NSIDE Magazine
Interact, grow, learn, love – these are the guiding tenets of Eva’s Heroes, the San Antonio-based nonprofit organization founded by actress Eva Longoria and her close friend, Christiane Perkins-Garcia.
The organization is dedicated to helping teens and adults with intellectual special needs ages 14 and older integrate and flourish in society.
“This organization is extremely close to my heart, as I was fortunate to grow up with a sister with intellectual special needs,” Longoria says. “My mother became a special education teacher because of her, and therefore, I have been involved with all facets of this community since I could walk and talk.”
Growing up in Corpus Christi, Longoria’s oldest sister, Elizabeth, was her hero. Doctors had told the Longorias that Elizabeth would not live past the age of 2. Today, the high school graduate has a job, lives on her own and is still her sister’s hero. “She has given me so much inspiration and hope to face every day with the strength and courage she has had her whole life,” Longoria says. “She has never seen herself as having a disability, and only sees the good in everyone and everything."
Longoria credits socialization programs with helping her sister on the path to independence. When Perkins-Garcia, a special education teacher, noted a lack of similar services for San Antonio youth, the women saw an opportunity to make a difference. Together, they launched Eva’s Heroes in 2006. “We’ve grown so much in the last five years,” says Perkins-Garcia, who now serves as the board chairman. “Today, we have an after-school program, amazing monthly events and a packed summer enrichment program. Our programs allow individuals with special needs the same kind of experiences their typically developing peers enjoy.”
“We are providing an environment where the participants feel welcomed and loved, where they can grow as an individual, whether it’s going to a movie, dancing, cooking, swimming or things that will help them become more self-sufficient and confident,” Longoria says.
The impact has been phenomenal, as parents like Ludy Castaneda can attest. The mother of two girls used to feel sad because her youngest daughter, Jessica, was missing out on activities like sleepovers and going to sporting events with friends. That all changed when Jessica started participating in Eva’s Heroes events. “She has become more outgoing, and she just loves her independence,” Castaneda says. “I am so thankful that we have this organization here in San Antonio.”
The success of Eva’s Heroes is wholly dependent upon community support. Executive Director Shawne Stewart-Zakaria says that in spite of the economic challenges of the past few years, the organization has grown steadily. Its signature fundraiser, Eva Longoria’s Celebrity Casino Night, raised more than half a million dollars for the first time in 2011. “We are grateful for the generous support of sponsors like Xbox LIVE, H-E-B, American Airlines and many others,” Stewart-Zakaria says. “Thanks to corporate support, donors and community volunteers, Eva’s Heroes is able to serve more and more families.” One major gift from the Texas Cavaliers was utilized to launch a new program called Passport San Antonio. The grant was given in conjunction with Longoria’s role as grand marshal of the 2011 Texas Cavaliers River Parade. Passport San Antonio enables participants to experience arts and cultural events across the city.
Memorable experiences from the program’s first year include enjoying a dynamic performance from the Blue Man Group and getting swept into the holiday spirit at a viewing of “The Nutcracker.” Passport San Antonio participants also enjoyed a SeaWorld sleepover that included a behind-the-scenes tour.
Longoria’s advocacy for individuals with special needs has also put the organization in the national spotlight. Recently, Longoria was an honoree at the Variety Power of Women event, where Hollywood’s elite learned more about the mission of Eva’s Heroes. Longoria was also featured on the cover of the latest Toys-R-Us guide for differently abled kids. “I am blessed to have these opportunities to raise awareness about the untapped potential of individuals with special needs,” Longoria says. “We need to make sure there are no barriers for every person to actively participate in society.” “Eva’s passion and commitment is contagious,” Perkins-Garcia says. “I think everyone will be amazed at what Eva’s Heroes accomplishes in the next five years.”
All About Eva
Eva Longoria is the youngest of Enrique and Ella Longorias’ four daughters. She was raised on a ranch outside of Corpus Christi, Texas. Upon graduating from Texas A&M Kingsville with a degree in kinesiology, she entered a talent contest that led her to Los Angeles.
After guest appearances on several television shows, Longoria got her break on the popular soap opera, “The Young and the Restless,” where she played psychotic Isabella Braña Williams from 2001 to 2003. Longoria’s fame skyrocketed upon landing the role of Gabrielle Solis on the ABC megahit “Desperate Housewives.” The show is ending its eight-season run this year, but Longoria has many exciting projects in the works, including some films. The award-winning actress is also an astute businesswoman. Longoria created UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, her own production company, which develops films and television shows.
She has opened a restaurant and written a cookbook. Her talent and charm made her the perfect choice to represent L’Oreal Paris as an international spokesperson. She is also the face of BEBE SPORT. Longoria was an activist long before she became famous. Today, she uses her influence to further causes close to her heart. She is a passionate and tireless advocate for individuals with intellectual special needs, children fighting cancer, immigrants, child farm workers and the environment.
Longoria is involved with numerous charities, most notably as co-founder of Eva’s Heroes and as the national spokesperson for PADRES Contra EL Cancer. In recognition of her community leadership, she has been called upon by President Obama as an advisor on Latino issues, and she was an honoree at this year’s Variety Power of Women celebration.
Longoria continually strives to give a voice and opportunities to those who are normally sidelined by society. She is an articulate and knowledgeable advocate for the issues in which she is involved.
In the midst of this busy schedule, Longoria is now pursuing her master’s in Chicano studies.
Eva’s Heroes Fundraisers
Eva’s Heroes fundraisers are known for their star power, and that will be the case with two events for 2012. The first event on the calendar is a swanky sendoff for the “Desperate Housewives” series. The fabulous farewell to Wisteria Lane will give fans a unique opportunity to celebrate this cultural touchstone and watch the finale together. Eva Longoria’s Celebrity Casino Night will also be back in the fall. The signature event is known for its Vegas-style casino games, competitive poker tournament and ultra-cool silent and live auction items.
Summer Enrichment Program Registration
Registration is now underway for the Eva’s Heroes Summer Enrichment program. This is a unique opportunity for teens and young adults with intellectual special needs to enjoy a summer recreation experience in a structured and supportive environment. The program is open to individuals ages 14 to 21.
Participants engage in activities that weave socialization and recreation together. Such activities include:
- Outdoor activities
- Computer activities
- Field trips
- Snack preparation