The Chance to Grow program held its annual fundraiser at Canterbury Park on Saturday, something the organization has done every year the track has been open since 1986.
Back then the program was just getting started. The year Canterbury opened, 1985, there were 28 families involved in Chance to Grow, whose mission is to help developmentally disabled children who have head injuries, cerebral palsy, autism, learning disabilities of other kinds as well as more basic reading problems.
Bob DeBoer and his wife, Kathy, are former educators motivated by their daughter, Jesse, who was brain-injured at birth, to do something on behalf of children such as she.
Today, the program has expanded dramatically from those meager early beginnings when the DeBoers rented two classrooms from a school in extreme North Minneapolis. Canterbury and other players in the horse racing industry have contributed to that growth in a variety of ways.
From ties to 28 families 23 years ago, Chance to Grow now cares for 350 youngsters daily in its New Vision school and other facilities, has 400 employees, a $12 million annual budget and has distributed its boost-up reading program to 220 schools throughout the U.S., 110 of them in Minnesota.
DeBoer was introduced to Canterbury Downs racing secretary Tom Knust in 1985. Knust, who had suffered a head injury in the Viet Nam war, was doing volunteer work with a young Burnsville boy.
Knust, in turn, suggested that DeBoer have a fundraiser at Canterbury, which annually raises about $20,000 for the cause. Several years later, DeBoer was introduced to Jerry Myers, who races horses at Canterbury and is one of the tracks leading owners.
Today, Chance for Grow and its programs are housed in a renovated building once occupied by Myers’ sheet metal company.
“His company outgrew the building so Jerry and his wife, Marlene, donated it,” said DeBoer. “We raised $5 million to renovate it. It is now a 52,000 square foot building that houses all of our programs and our school.”
“We’re just proud to be a part of Chance to Grow with Bob, proud to be involved,” said Myers, who with his wife, Marlene, race as Jer-Mar Stable, Canterbury’s leading owner in 2005 and among the leaders annually.
The former sheet metal building now houses the New Vision school, a child care facility, four outpatient clinics for occupational and speech therapy,a vision center including optometrist and a hearing facility.
“The Myers building makes us look 50 percent smarter. It’s absolutely beautiful now,” said DeBoer. “It’s been a major jump for us..”
Jesse DeBoer, now 27, works in a nursing home as an assistant and keeps her father informed about the Jer-Mar Stable’s entries. “Every day she knows if they have a horse running,” DeBoer said.
Canterbury’s commitment to the program has elicited a promise from DeBoer.
“If Canterbury ever needs someone to speak on its behalf before the Legislature, to talk about all the good they do, I’d be happy to do it,” he said.