In an episode that aired Sunday night, ABC's Secret Millionaire spotlighted three Houston-area non-profits: The Sean Ashley House, Lazarus House and No More Victims. After volunteering with each group, undercover philanthropists and Curves owners Gary and Diane Heavin made these donations:
- $250,000 to Sean Ashley House, which helps people with disabilities, with a focus on autism,
- $50,000 to No More Victims, a non-profit in east Houston founded by former probation officer Marilyn Gambrell to help children whose parents are in prison. The couple gave an additional $10,000 to Warren, a volunteer who counsels youngsters,
- $100,000 to Lazarus House, an exercise facility dedicated to helping people suffering from disease-related muscle loss.
We caught up with Lazarus House executive director Danielle Sampey Monday, fresh off her viewing party at The Chocolate Bar, which was attended by more than 150 supporters.
In the 10 months since the episode was filmed, Sampey said the gift to Lazarus House has helped sustain the small charity, but the non-profit organization is far from sitting pretty.
"Everybody thinks we must be made in the shade, but the honest truth is that if we hadn't received that money, who knows where we'd be right now," Sampey says.
She had hoped to use the money to purchase the leased house that Lazarus House operates from, but has instead used the funds to continue day-to-day operations.
"It's stayed in the wellness program," Sampey says. "We have a small budget that we operate off of, and we'll always work with a shoestring budget to make sure it gets to the people that need it. [The gift] will sustain us a while, but not forever."
Sampey says that although the show's exposure has led to some donations from viewers, the most immense response has been from people hoping Lazarus House can help them.
"I've had hundreds of emails from all across the United States asking 'Is there a Lazarus House in Maine? We need you in New Jersey; we need you in Phoenix.'"
Sampey says she'd already set up 10 tours of the facility my mid-afternoon Monday, and anticipates a huge increase in her clientele.
"I see big things for Lazarus House, client-wise," she says. "It's a huge opportunity for people who need us to know that we're here. There is such need."
To find out how you can help Lazarus House keep helping people with disease-related muscle loss, visit thelazarushouse.org.
See Channel 13's report on how all three agencies reacted to their appearance on Secret Millionaire: