Sunday night was not the first time that national child welfare provider Youth Villages learned that it was about to receive a $1 million gift. But it was the first time the organization scarcely had to lift a finger to get one.
The windfall comes courtesy of actress Melissa Joan Hart, star of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” A few weeks ago, longtime Youth Villages admirer Hart called the nonprofit and said she’d selected the organization as her charity to receive any money she might win on the show, “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune.”
At the time, Hart told the nonprofit that each celebrity’s chosen charity was guaranteed $30,000 or $40,000, Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler told The Imprint. Last week, the star called again to say she’d won “a lot of money” but didn’t spill the beans before the episode aired, he said.
“I didn’t leak it,” Hart told USA Today. “I was like, ‘Guys, you’ll have to watch me on ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ It’s going to be epic.'”
Turned out Hart won a shade over $1 million for the nonprofit, much more than anyone dared to dream. “We watched the show just like everybody else last night,” Lawler said. “It was quite a party. We were shocked. That’s a lot of money. We were blown away.”
It was only the third time there was a “million-dollar wedge” winner on the syndicated show, according to USA Today.
As delighted as he and his staff were, the real winners are the thousands of transition-age foster youth nationwide who will benefit from the $1 million prize being dedicated to Youth Villages’ 22-year-old LifeSet program.
LifeSet provides face-to-face evidence-based services to foster youth who are trying to overcome trauma as they make the difficult transition to independent adulthood. Specialists check in with youth at least once a week and help with any issues they may have with housing, relationships, education and employment.
“We look forward to expanding the program,” Lawler said.
Youth Villages’ top-line mission is to help emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families.
Lawler said the charity has received other large donations, but securing gifts of that size usually requires “months and months” of relationship building before bearing fruit. “This is the first time all we’ve had to do is answer the phone,” he said.