Trevino wins grant from MLB Players Trust for charity that teaches art to those with special needs

HOUSTON (AP) — When Jose Trevino took a teen leadership class taught by Sherri Davis in high school the New York Yankees catcher couldn’t have imagined the long-lasting impact it would have.

“It changed my life,” Trevino told The Associated Press. “She taught me a ton of lessons in high school, life lessons that help to this day.”

So, when Davis retired after a 47-year teaching career and started a nonprofit in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, called “ Special Hearts in the Arts ” in 2016 to provide arts education to those with special needs, Trevino quickly became one of the organization’s most important benefactors.

This week he’ll give the beloved group another gift to continue its work. Trevino has been selected as the first Most Valuable Philanthropist of the year by the MLBPA Players Trust and is receiving a $5,000 grant for Special Hearts.

Trevino was selected for the award over more than a dozen other applicants by a panel of four former players. Amy Hever, the director of the Players Trust, said its focus is to help players create more impact for causes in their communities.

“So, this is a way to not only recognize them, but it also raises tremendous awareness for these causes, especially these hyper-local causes and organizations that some would argue are doing the greatest work in their local communities,” Hever said.

Davis raved about Trevino’s generosity and the special bond he’s built with the group. Trevino often visits Special Hearts in the offseason and the students rave about meeting him and covet the pictures he’s taken with them.

"You’ll never have anyone say anything bad about Jose,” Davis said. “I think he just makes people feel worthy of whatever they do. That’s a Jose thing that he does."

At Special Hearts, students, who range in age from 12-80, take classes in a variety of the arts including dance, theater, music and art. The group performs around the city and has become a favorite of Corpus Christi mayor Paulette M. Guajardo, who invites them to participate in the Fourth of July celebration each year.

On Saturday morning, about three dozen Special Hearts performed a sign language version of the song “Love Can Build A Bridge.” Students beamed as they did the number, which they’ve adopted as their theme song.

Arts are the focus of the center, but perhaps more important is the confidence participation builds and the community that is forged through the classes.

“We don’t say special needs in here,” Davis said. “We say Special Hearts. We never say disabilities. We always say special abilities.”

Before each of their performances Davis leads the group in a back-and-forth affirmation.

“I always ask them: ‘Who are you?’ And they say: ‘Special Hearts.’ And I say: ‘What do you have? Special abilities?’”

Victoria Hinojosa has been a Special Heart for about three years and is the center of the group’s ballet folklorico performances, plays the guitar and takes art classes. When she first joined the group, she told Davis she couldn’t dance because she’s in a wheelchair.

“I said: ‘don’t say, I can’t do, say do what you can, how you can,’” Davis said. “And boy, can she swing that skirt.”

Hinojosa, who recently began volunteering to help others at the center, can’t overstate the importance of Special Hearts in her life.

“I don’t know where I would have been if it wasn’t for Special Hearts,” she said. “It has really made me feel confident in what I do and how I look at things and I love the way I draw now, and it inspires me to do more.”

Though he’s often almost 2,000 miles away in New York City, Trevino’s presence is a huge part of Special Hearts. A big photo of him hangs in Davis’ office and posters featuring pictures of him and the students adorn the center.

Davis sends him videos of their performances and she recently sent a picture of the group holding a Yankees banner they made with his name on it.

“It’s amazing what he’s doing for Special Hearts,” Hinojosa said. “He has really made us all happy, made us really look at ourselves and think we can do whatever we want. We can go out there and perform… and show people what we can do.”

Though Davis and the students credit Trevino for his support, he’s quick to point out that the most special heart in the organization is the one belonging to his former teacher.

“That’s what it is, it’s her heart,” Trevino said. “Her heart — it’s ginormous. She has a big heart and she’s always looking out for other people.”

Idali Duarte Montes, another former student of Davis who now works with her at Special Hearts, agreed.

“Without Sherri, of course, this wouldn’t even be here,” she said. “It came completely from her 100%. And all her hard work was what started it. And then everybody, all the love that she exudes and gets from others that want to support and help has brought all that to Special Hearts in the Arts.”

Wiliam Rucizka, is another student who is known around Corpus Christi as “Will The Thrill” for his ability to hype up the crowds before performances. Constantly smiling and upbeat, Rucizka enjoys a variety of activities at the center.

“We do art, music, theater, dance and … we do ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’ every day,” he said. “We do celebrating every day.”

And because of Trevino’s recent gift, Special Hearts will add a new program. Called “The Remarkables,” the group will dress as superheroes, each with their own special power, and perform at children’s hospitals and nursing homes.

Though he’s been out of high school for more than a decade, Trevino still leans on things Davis taught him.

An important one is a breathing technique that the Gold and Platinum Glove winner uses to slow things down and “really be in the moment” before games.

“It’s really cool what Ms. Davis is doing, and I have a lot of respect for her, and I appreciate everything she’s doing,” Trevino said. “I think anybody who’s around Ms. Davis is lucky because she’s just a great person.”