ChildServe, a Johnston-based pediatric specialty health care organization that serves more than 4,500 children in Iowa each year, has announced a $10 million fundraising effort called Forward Together that will help the nonprofit to address growing and unmet needs.  

“We’ve never had a campaign this size,” said Dr. Teri Wahlig, ChildServe’s CEO, who noted that previous campaign goals have been between $2 million and $4 million. ChildServe’s most recent expansion in 2014, which doubled its outpatient therapy space at its Johnston campus, was funded by a roughly $4 million campaign.

The current fundraising campaign, announced Wednesday during ChildServe’s annual meeting, will make it possible for the organization to:

• Create a new state-of-the-art inpatient rehabilitation medicine unit, the only pediatric facility of its kind in Iowa. Originally opened in 2007 in Johnson, its areas of specialization include pediatric brain injury, multi-trauma, orthopedic, spinal cord, and burn and wound care. An existing 14,000 square feet of office space at the Johnston campus will be repurposed for the new 16-bed rehabilitation unit, which is expected to open in the summer of 2021.  

• Start up a pediatric behavioral health and autism clinic that will greatly expand the capacity for ChildServe to support children with dual diagnoses of developmental delays or disabilities, plus mental health needs. Work on that clinic is expected to begin this summer.

• Provide specialized 24/7 nursing care for the growing population of individuals who previously would have “aged out” of ChildServe into an adult system with few, if any, appropriate placement options for their level of medical complexity.

ChildServe provides the only long-term care unit for children with complex medical conditions in the state, Wahlig said. Previously, the organization was only able to serve those children until age 21, but it has worked with the state to change its licensure so it can serve young adults up to age 30, she said. That expansion in the long-term care unit is driving the need for more rehabilitation space, Wahlig said.

The State Health Facilities Council is scheduled to hear a certificate of need request by ChildServe for the new rehabilitation unit when it meets on July 17.

ChildServe Trustee Joanie Houston and her husband, Dan Houston, chairman, president and CEO of Principal Financial Group, provided a lead gift of $1 million. The Houstons’ charitable investment in ChildServe includes a $500,000 personal gift, plus $500,000 in matching gift program dollars provided by Principal’s philanthropic arm, the Principal Foundation.

The new rehabilitation unit will be named “JoJo’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Unit, in honor of Joanie Houston, whose grandchildren call her JoJo. Dan Houston surprised his wife with the name and the creative design of the unit during ChildServe’s annual meeting.

“Joanie and I have long believed that every child deserves the opportunity to grow up healthy, educated, and safe,” Dan Houston said in a statement. “ChildServe has shown us that believing in the spirit of a child can change lives, including our own. Joanie and I, along with the Principal Foundation, thank everyone who has provided their early financial support and encourage others to give to ChildServe’s campaign so we can continue to move Forward Together.”

The campaign has already raised more than half its goal, Wahlig said.

“We’re grateful for the $5.81 million in gift commitments we’ve already secured,” she said. “That number represents the collective impact of 93 donors including several who are first-time givers to ChildServe.”

ChildServe, which has a $52 million annual operating budget, typically fundraises only about 3% of its annual budget, and requires each of its programs to be financially self-sustaining, Wahlig said. Only donated funds are used to purchase equipment or to build facilities, she said.

The nonprofit, which also operates facilities in Ames and Iowa City, currently has about 1,400 employees across its three locations, about half of whom are full-time.

ChildServe’s campaign team will reach out to additional charitable individuals, families, corporations and foundations to raise the balance of the $10 million needed for the capital improvements, technology and equipment, program startup support and additional pediatric experts. To donate or to learn more, visit