|Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.|
A Special Partnership: Perkins International and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Breaking Down Barriers for People with Disabilities One Child at a Time
It was 1887 when Perkins School for the Blind graduate Anne Sullivan arrived in Alabama, where she met a young girl named Helen Keller.
Helen was deaf and blind; she was frustrated and confused by her own inability to interact with the world. At the time, many thought educating a child like Helen was impossible.
But with patience, determination, and a willingness to try anything and everything, Anne and Helen proved them wrong. Helen learned how to make sense of her surroundings and to communicate. She later wrote about grasping language as an event that profoundly transformed her life: “That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”
More than 100 years later Perkins International emerged as a global venture to reach children like Helen Keller around the world who are still waiting for the chance to awaken their souls and realize their full potential.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Perkins International Share a Bold Vision
|In Tanzania, a teacher uses tactile sign language to communicate with a student who is deafblind.|
Conrad N. Hilton, the famous hotel chain entrepreneur, was 15 years old when he discovered Helen Keller’s book, Optimism. Helen, only eight years older than Conrad, wrote: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.”
Conrad, who later wrote of Helen’s influence in his memoir, adopted this concept of hope and determination when he established the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 1944. The foundation supports nonprofit organizations “working to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people throughout the world.”
The Hilton Foundation, which is based in Los Angeles, learned firsthand about the unmet needs of people who are blind with additional disabilities in 1983. They were working with a local organization founded by parents who realized no adequate therapeutic residential services existed for their adult children who were blind and developmentally disabled. After this experience, the Hilton Foundation board members set out to find other nonprofit organizations working with people who are blind with additional disabilities – they were determined to help this underserved population on a much larger scale.
Their research led them to Perkins – an organization with deep-rooted expertise, a proven track record, and a unique capability to reach this underserved population.
A Powerful Partnership: Planting Seeds of Possibility
The Hilton Foundation contacted Perkins, which had been training teachers of students who are blind from around the world since the 1920s. The Foundation recognized the potential for Perkins to create a formal international program and reach many more children with multiple disabilities in the developing world, many of whom are kept hidden at home as a result of negative cultural attitudes.
|Perkins President Steven Rothstein, left, with Hilton Foundation President Steve Hilton.|
In 1989, Perkins International was born with the Hilton Foundation’s $15.4 million grant. The grant was 100 times larger than the largest contribution Perkins had ever received from a private foundation and the Hilton Foundation has continued to nurture the program’s growth ever since.
Only nine developing countries had any kind of program for children who were deafblind or blind with additional disabilities in 1989. Today, Perkins International works with partners in over 67 countries, benefiting more than 66,000 children, families, and teachers in 2011 alone.
Relationships Built on Trust Produce Results
Bolstered by the Hilton Foundation’s encouragement and long-term view, Perkins International has been successful in creating lasting change by helping local partners to establish and run innovative, sustainable programs to suit their unique social, cultural, and political contexts. Our approach brings together schools, parent organizations, universities, government representatives and international agencies in pioneering alliances to transform educational services and disability policies.
Just as Perkins International empowers local partners so they have the tools to make changes in their communities, the Hilton Foundation has trusted Perkins International to use its support – over $65 million over two decades – towards carefully chosen programs and projects around the world with the greatest potential to make a long-term impact on the lives of children with multiple disabilities. The same virtues that guided the lifetime achievements of Helen Keller and Conrad Hilton – optimism and hope – continue to guide Perkins International’s work today.
A profile on this unique partnership entitled, “The Hilton Foundation Sees a Need and Finds a Partner”, is featured on The Bridgespan Group’s GiveSmart.org, a website designed to help philanthropists make better decisions and get better results from their giving.
Thank You to All of Perkins International's Fiscal 2011 Major Donors
Generous support provided by the major donors listed alphabetically below helped Perkins International reach 66,000 people around the world in 2011.
Al Noor Institute for the Blind - Qatar
Bilezikian Family Foundation
Cogan Family Foundation
Harvard Law School
Helen Keller International
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Indian American Education Foundation
Keren Or, Inc.
Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Inc.
Lions Clubs International Foundation
Norges Blindeforbund Synshemmedes Organisasjon
Northwest Christian Community Foundation
Pan American Health Organization - Argentina
The Sabanci Family Foundation
Save the Children
The Starr International Foundation
Various Local Lions Clubs