When children are grieving a serious medical condition of themselves, a sibling or parent, or someone in their life has died, Tu Nidito Children & Family Services is there to help the afflicted child and his family by teaching them skills to cope with this emotional storm. Executive Director Liz McCusker, now in her 20th year guiding the organization, notes that each year Tu Nidito helps more than 900 children and their families. That’s thousands of individuals receiving guidance at no cost to them through a community created to ensure that no child grieves alone.
“Unresolved grief can lead to a lot of ‘acting out’ — emotional, behavioral or worse. We give the kids and families the tools they need to walk through their journey. That journey will never end but with the appropriate coping mechanisms, we can provide that hope and comfort for the future.”
Tu Nidito also is an important resource for the community. “Right now we’re also spending a lot of time educating others who work with children, like school counselors, about the characteristics of grief. Sometimes behavioral or classroom issues are about grief going on in the child’s life.”
Liz is quick to note that their ability to help is due to the generosity of the Tucson community. “Although we’ve got only 10 paid staffers, we have more than 350 volunteers, without whom we couldn’t function. We start each year at $0 and have to generate our operating funds.”
One of Liz’s biggest challenges occurred when Tu Nidito lost its two biggest fundraisers in the same year — El Tour de Tucson and the Tucson Ladies Council Fashion Show. “We’d been taking steps to try to prepare for something like that, but there was no warning! Those two events brought in $300,000 that we had to figure out how to replace, and are still having to replace. We downsized staff without affecting services and became smarter in our fundraising. We also continue to try not to put all our eggs in any baskets — a hard-won lesson.
“The mantra around here was, ‘With Change Comes Opportunity.’
We’re still working to replace those funds, and the community was so generous in helping us by doing an Octoberfest or a golf tournament to help us. Obviously it didn’t make up all of it, but the community really rallied around.”
If Liz’s last name rings a bell, beside that of Tu Nidito, it is probably because you’ve read about her husband of 32 years, Tucson native son Fletcher McCusker. He is chairman of the Rio Nuevo Tax District Board, named by University of Arizona as their 2011 Alumni of the Year, named Man of the Year for 2015 by the Greater Tucson Leadership, founded both Providence Service Corporation and Sinfonia HealthCare Corp., helped launch Second Saturdays, and seemingly a thousand other things. Liz met Fletcher in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the duo worked at Century HealthCare. They fell in love, married and, when Fletcher was at a crossroad in his career, made the decision to move to Fletcher’s old stomping ground of Tucson. Liz worked as director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation for five years before taking the reins at Tu Nidito.
One has to wonder how two busy, high-energy individuals handle such important community involvement and business tasks yet still manage to nurture a relationship and raise their 28-year-old son Tyler together. “Even when Fletcher traveled a lot for work, he’d bust his butt to get back home, even if it would’ve been easier to stay in a hotel. That’s just one example of how our relationship works. I’d also have to say that he doesn’t sleep! People aren’t surprised to receive emails from him at 3 or 4 a.m.”
The couple supports many organizations beside the ones they’re directly involve in. “Besides our work obligations, it seems as though we’re always attending some fundraiser or other together. We really believe in giving back to the community.”
During their very limited downtime, the McCuskers enjoy skiing, or the occasional round of golf. “What I enjoy doing most in my downtime is going to concerts, mostly rock. Our son Tyler runs a nonprofit radio station in Laguna Beach, and I have a radio show called ‘Mom on the Rocks, where I report about music and concerts.”
Liz remains hopeful for the future of Tu Nidito, which received two large donations from Angel Charity over the years, the most recent of which enabled the organization to add onto their facility on Mountain Avenue.
Her main message is that Tu Nidito always needs volunteers. “It is probably one of the most fulfilling volunteer experiences people can get in this town because they’re working directly with children and families. If a volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, there always is some way they can help.” — Anne Kellogg
Editor’s Note: The Remarkable Celebration, a fundraiser for Tu Nidito, will be held Saturday, May 13 at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. Meet the Remarkable Moms who were chosen for 2017 on page 54.