BENEFITING: SPORTS OUTDOOR AND RECREATION SOAR PARK
EVENT DATE: Aug 31, 2015
Courtney Stanton wrote -About Morgan's Wonderland The Inspiration Call her a catalyst, a spark, an inspiration. Morgan Hartman doesn’t realize it, but her ability to smile through physical and cognitive challenges spurred her parents – Gordon and Maggie Hartman – to do things never before accomplished for individuals with special needs and their families. Morgan not only inspired the creation of a one-of-a-kind theme park but also a unique school and a championship professional soccer team. The tipping point occurred in 2005 when Gordon observed Morgan wanting to play with other vacationing kids at hotel swimming pool, but the kids were leery of Morgan and didn’t want to interact with her. Then and there, Gordon resolved to create opportunities and places where those with and without disabilities can come together not only for fun but also for a better understanding of one another. That led to the construction of Morgan’s Wonderland in an abandoned quarry in Northeast San Antonio. It’s apropos that the butterfly is the symbol of this unique theme park; soaring to one success after another is now commonplace. When it celebrated its grand opening April 10, 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland became the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. The completely wheelchair-accessible park features more than 25 elements including rides, playgrounds and other colorful attractions. From the very beginning, anyone with a special need has been admitted free of charge, no questions asked. It is Morgan’s fervent hope that everyone with a special need – young and older, healthy or ailing, introspective or outgoing – will be touched in a very special way by Morgan’s Wonderland: a shrine of inclusion, an oasis of friendship, an unforgettable wonderland…Morgan’s Wonderland! The Visionary Native San Antonian Gordon V. Hartman is a philanthropist and former homebuilder who at the age of 15 started his own landscaping business while attending a local seminary. By age 19, he had earned and saved enough to begin his homebuilding business, and by age 23, he had started a land development company. Founded in 1983, Gordon Hartman Homes built homes for low- to moderate-income families. Over the next 22 years, Gordon grew his company into the largest locally owned homebuilding and land development enterprise in San Antonio. In 2005, Gordon sold his companies and established The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation to which he and his wife, Maggie, have donated funds to pursue their dream of helping children and adults with special needs. Their devotion to this cause is inspired by their 21-year-old daughter, Morgan, who has special needs. In 2007, Gordon recognized the tremendous need for accessible outdoor recreational facilities for individuals with special needs, so he made another dream come true – the April 2010 grand opening of Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park. This unique and colorful park has already welcomed more than 500,000 guests from all 50 states and 54 other countries. Gordon’s realization that families with special-needs members have increased demands on both their financial and emotional resources led to his commitment to admit anyone with a special need free of charge. Also in 2010, Gordon opened the STAR (South Texas Area Regional) Soccer Complex next to Morgan’s Wonderland. Since then, he has launched The Academy at Morgan's Wonderland, a for students with special needs; the Soccer for a Cause effort that led to creation of the San Antonio Scorpions pro soccer team; and the Scorpions’ multi-purpose stadium, Toyota Field. For more information, see “The History” section below. Gordon also has played a key role in partnering with CRIT (Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletónUSA), a $17 million clinic next to Morgan’s Wonderland serving children with physical challenges. Modeled after successful CRITs in Mexico, Central America and South America, CRIT USA is the first CRIT rehabilitation center built in the United States. Always looking to the future, Gordon is now working on the world’s first splash park for special-needs individuals. Like Morgan’s Wonderland, the new park will be ultra-accessible and feature tropically themed aquatic elements so everyone can have splashy fun in the sun. Because of his generosity and vision, Gordon has earned numerous local, regional and national honors including an honorary doctorate of social work from San Antonio’s Our Lady of the Lake University. Gordon remains firm in his conviction: “Together, we ARE making a difference!” The Vision Our vision is to establish a special place where smiles and laughter lead to wonderful memories with family members, friends and caregivers. We want Morgan’s Wonderland to be a place where the common element of play creates an atmosphere of inclusion for those with and without disabilities, encouraging everyone to gain a greater understanding of one another. Morgan’s Wonderland is just like any other theme park except for a culture and environment that assures 100 percent enjoyment by every person who enters through the Welcome Center. Unfortunately, countless children and adults with special needs do not have access to facilities that enable them to fully enjoy outdoor recreation. Morgan’s Wonderland has begun to change that. The Mission To provide a safe, clean and beautiful environment free of physical and economic barriers that all individuals – regardless of age, special need or disability – can come to and enjoy. The History To take Morgan’s Wonderland from dream to reality, The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation in 2007 established non-profit Sports Outdoor And Recreation (SOAR), a non-profit to raise money for theme park construction and to provide for quality, professional management. Funding began with an initial gift from Gordon and Maggie Hartman in love and admiration for Morgan. Financial commitments for the $34 million park also came from the City of San Antonio, the State of Texas, charitable foundations, corporations and individuals. In spring 2009, the Foundation broke ground for Morgan’s Wonderland on the former site of Longhorn Quarry in Northeast San Antonio. Construction took slightly more than a year, and a festive grand opening occurred April 10, 2010, with actress and philanthropist Eva Longoria and NBA basketball legend David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs on hand as special guests. Also in 2010, Hartman opened the STAR (South Texas Area Regional) Soccer Complex adjacent to Morgan’s Wonderland. This 75-acre soccer facility hosts practices, league play and tournaments for teams across Texas. He then launched Soccer for a Cause, a community-wide effort to bring pro soccer to San Antonio that resulted in the acquisition of a franchise in the North American Soccer League (NASL). The San Antonio Scorpions won the 2014 NASL championship in just the third year of the team’s existence. In August 2012, global automotive giant Toyota announced its presenting sponsorship of the Scorpions’ new home, Toyota Field. The 8,000-seat stadium, which opened in April 2013, is expandable in stages up to 18,000 seats. Toyota also became presenting sponsor of Morgan’s Wonderland under a long-term philanthropic agreement. Net profits from STAR Soccer, the Scorpions and Toyota Field help non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland meet its operating expenses as well as expand programs and services for the special-needs community. This business model is unique in the world of professional sports. The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland, a school for students with special needs, that opened in August 2011. It’s a unique learning environment next to the theme park that enables students from ages 12 to 24 to learn and reach their maximum potential. The newest Morgan’s Wonderland neighbor and partner is the CRIT (Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletónUSA), a $17 million, 45,000-square-foot clinic serving children with physical challenges. This venture of the Teletón USA Foundation and Univision Communications opened in November 2014, and it’s already serving 600 young patients from 41 states and five other countries. Morgan’s Wonderland offers a therapeutic outlet for children undergoing treatment and a recreational outlet for their families. Slowly but surely, Longhorn Quarry is being transformed into a destination – Wonderland, Texas – focusing on family entertainment, sports, recreational activities, special events and education. What’s truly remarkable is that everything that happens at Wonderland, Texas, benefits individuals with special needs.