The solution was soccer. Not only is the sport extremely popular in San Antonio, but the quarry where Morgan's Wonderland is located has an underground water supply that could provide an inexpensive way to keep fields green in hot, dry Texas. Soccer for a Cause, as Gordon calls it, is the marriage of Morgan's Wonderland and the adjacent 13-field South Texas Area Regional (STAR) Soccer Complex, which was built using county bonds and private donations. Proceeds from STAR help subsidize free entry to the park for those with special needs.
This year Gordon founded the San Antonio Scorpions, a professional soccer team that funnels its profits into the amusement park. "As far as I know, this is the first professional sports team created to fund a nonprofit," Gordon says. The Scorpions, a member of the North American Soccer League, played their first home game in front of a sold-out crowd.
Since opening in April 2010, Morgan's Wonderland has touched lives in ways Gordon couldn't have imagined that afternoon at the pool. "Before the park, I had to sit back and watch everyone else play," says 18-year-old Miguel Castro of San Antonio, who has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. He celebrated his 17th birthday party at the park. "If I had to pick a favorite ride, it would be the swings. I hadn't been on one since I was 2 or 3 years old, and didn't really remember what it felt like," says Miguel. "Now I can go on them whenever we visit, and have fun like everyone else. It means everything to me."
Gordon founded Monarch Academy last year, a school next to Morgan's Wonderland for kids ages 12 through 24 with special needs. "If Morgan didn't have a school like this, she would probably get lost in the system," Gordon says. "I don't want that to happen to these kids." Next up is adding a fully accessible water park. And Morgan's Wonderland will play a starring role on an upcoming special episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition as the official builder of a 4,000-square-foot home for a local soldier badly injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq. It marks the first time the show has contracted with a nonprofit to be the home builder.
Despite all the activity, the best part of this entire ride has never changed for Gordon. "When Morgan goes to the park, she doesn't fully understand that it's named for her. She plays with kids whom she might never have played with, and she smiles and has a great time," he says. "She's included, and that's what it was all about."
To learn hours of operation or to make a donation, visit morganswonderland.com.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.