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The Not So Secret

Las Madrinas

Mary King’s world unexpectedly came to a crashing halt one Saturday as she attended a high school speech and debate competition. An advisor and high school teacher in California, she frequently attended these events and was prepared for another day buzzing with activity. Amid the throng of excited students and teachers, the STARS visionary caught the glance of a familiar face. It was her neighbor, who informed her that her young son Miles was involved in an accident. Her then husband was with him at the hospital.

As King tried to comprehend the neighbor’s words, which were nearly drowned out by commotion going on around them, her colleague assured her he’d take care of the group. The drive to the hospital was both a blur and a race.

“[My neighbor] was driving like a maniac, and I got this feeling that this was more than a bump,” she says. But King didn’t ask how much more. She couldn’t—or didn’t—want to know just yet.

Upon their arrival at the hospital, the sound of Miles crying echoed from the sterile walls. She ran to his voice, but was restrained by the nurse.

“No, you don’t want to go in there,” the nurse forewarned.

“Well, that’s my baby,” King cried.

She later learned that an assumed parked truck near their home unexpectedly rolled over Miles when he went to fetch a toy he had accidentally dropped. “Tire tracks were across his head,” King recalls.

Although Miles had a traumatic brain injury and would need anti-seizure medication until his teen years, he would live. “You think the world is coming to an end, but he did survive,” King says.

Although she could not predict how much the accident would impact her and her family, she gained a better understanding of the struggles many parents face. “I know how it feels when a child is different,” King explains. “It’s not what it does to you, but what it does to them. It is so painful when someone calls your child a derogatory name, or asks what’s wrong with them, and why can’t they do this or that.”

Coming full circle, the former Scottsdale city employee was on the path of changing that story when she was asked to research available programs for adults with special needs in the area during the early 1970s. The request came about after a Scottsdale resident and parent shared with the council that the city lacked these programs at that time.

“These parents didn’t want to get their hopes up, and I was very conscious of that,” King says, adding that the group wasn’t about making a lot of noise, but rather doing what they needed to do so their children could live their best life—like every child.

King led ventures with fundraising events and community support, forming an auxiliary group to help raise money for programs and services. They would eventually be known as “Las Madrinas” or “the Godmothers.”

“I think as the years have gone by, we felt like it was a secret club,” King says. “You just understand when someone says they really appreciate what we did.” Written by Julia De Simone

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