Growing up in Austin’s Tarrytown neighborhood in the 1950s, Danforth struggled to read and write despite being an inquisitive child with parents who were highly educated. Only his mother’s fierce advocacy kept him out of special education class where children with disabilities languished.
As a young man, Danforth found success through courage, hard work and his gift of relating easily with others. He survived three years of military service in Vietnam including the brutal Tet Offensive. Upon his return, he put his people skills and ability to fix anything to work, opening his antique shop on Lavaca Street. Later he discovered why certain tasks like writing letters home from the war were so difficult for him. He was dyslexic.
Dyslexia is now understood as a language processing difference that affects as many as 20% of people. Individuals with dyslexia are out-of-the-box thinkers and with appropriate instruction become inventors, innovators and leaders.
After 25 years of turning cast-off items (he recalls an old barber’s chair in particular) into treasures, Danforth closed his store to invest in real estate and the stock market with great success. In recent years, his financial advisor suggested he reduce his income tax bill by opening a charitable Donor Advised Fund which would provide him with an immediate tax deduction and allow him to give to nonprofit causes when he was ready.
“I asked him where this firm was located,” recalls Danforth, “and he said ‘Pennsylvania.’” Giving away his hard-earned money to folks who couldn’t care less about the UT Longhorns seemed foolish. After all, Danforth’s great-uncle was Robert Mueller, the city commissioner for whom the airport (and later the Mueller neighborhood) was named.
“Then he suggested the Austin Community Foundation,” says Danforth, “and the more I learned about it I knew it was the right choice for me.” Since he opened his fund at the Foundation last year, he has especially enjoyed providing support for Rawson Saunders, the only school in Austin designed especially for children with dyslexia.
“I understand these children’s situation,” Danforth says, even though his worry about passing on dyslexia meant he never had children of his own. “You have to believe in yourself,” Danforth would like to tell children facing challenges due to being different, “even if others don’t yet.”
Danforth also believes in the Austin Community Foundation. “The Foundation knows what’s going on in town,” Danforth says. “When I want to check on a nonprofit’s finances or learn about who’s working in a certain area, I can call the Foundation.” As a cautious philanthropist, Danforth appreciates that his Donor Advised Fund allows him to get the full tax deduction he needs now while learning which causes he wishes to support.
“Dyslexia means extraordinary,” is the motto of Rawson Saunders School—but it can also be applied to Bill Danforth, who is helping children reach their full potential through his Donor Advised Fund at the Austin Community Foundation.