El Paso Times: Leigh Anne Tuohy Inspires 2,500 Women in El Paso

April 29th, 2011

El Paso Times

Leigh Anne Tuohy, woman who inspired ‘The Blind Side,’ speaks to 2,500 at YWCA luncheon
by Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Times

Posted: 04/29/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT
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“Turn around.”

The two simple words with a powerful message of encouragement came from Leigh Anne Tuohy, the inspiration behind the movie “The Blind Side,” who spoke to the nearly 2,500 people Thursday at the YWCA Women’s Luncheon.

“Those two words changed our lives and they could change yours,” Tuohy said during her humorous and touching presentation. “You can change the lives of all the other Michael Ohers of the world.”

As portrayed in the movie, Tuohy told her husband, Sean, to turn the car around when she first saw the homeless Oher walking alone in the rain one night in 2004. They took him in for nights at a time, and they adopted him four years later. Oher is now an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

“We challenge people every day: Turn around. Get off the beaten path,” Tuohy said. She added that everyone can do something to make a difference in the community. “If you’re not sure what to do, the YWCA can give you a list of what you can do.”

Now in its 18th year, the luncheon enjoyed its largest-ever turnout. The luncheon is the signature fundraiser for the YWCA and its programs, which include a transitional living center, day care and after-school care, health and recreation and credit counseling as well as
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initiatives that promote ending racism.

During the event, YWCA officials announced its Be-Y Miracles Happen capital campaign, which will raise money to renovate the organization’s existing buildings, update technology hardware and software, and more.

No specific goal was revealed, but it will take “lots of hard work and a lot of generous donors” to improve facilities, said Sandra Braham, chief executive officer of the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region — the largest YWCA organization in the nation.

The El Paso YWCA operates on an annual budget of $32 million and, in addition, oversees an $8 million foundation.

Before Tuohy was introduced, Braham shared some of her own life story.

She told, with little detail but a lot of emotion, about her schizophrenic mother, her days as a homeless teenager in Detroit, the numerous foster homes in which she lived, and the families that took her in and made a difference in her life.

“My story is that of tens of thousands of children today,” said Braham, who took the helm of the YWCA in 2006.

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know I will approach it with a purpose.”

The phrase “turn around” has become a mantra for the entire Tuohy family, the vivacious matriarch said during her keynote address.

She told a number of stories of how her children, including Oher, have taken giving to heart — bringing the audience to laughter, and tears.

“Turn around,” she said, means not turning your back to those around you and not being afraid to offer others “a hand up.”

She could have given Michael Oher money, she said, but what he really needed was love and opportunity.

“We invested ourselves in him. We invested our time and our love in him,” she said. The reward of their actions, she added, is having Oher in their lives.

In closing, Tuohy told the audience not to be afraid to give.

“If you have it, you give it,” she said. “Giving is infectious,” Tuohy said later.