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Dorothy Hunter Gordon, Chief Development Officer at NHS Allegheny Valley School, on the History of the Terrible Towel

November 12, 2012
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NHS Allegheny Valley School’s (AVS’) Chief Development Officer, Dorothy Hunter Gordon, on the Terrible Towel:

Since 1996, AVS has received the royalties from The Terrible Towel®.  The trademark is held by AVS Foundation for the benefit of Allegheny Valley School.  AVS Foundation is a private foundation.

First, can you tell readers about the AVS Foundation NHS Allegheny Valley School and what your role is when it comes to The Terrible Towel?

NHS Allegheny Valley School (AVS) is a private, non-profit organization established in 1960 to care for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  AVS was founded to care for ten children with intellectual disabilities for whom a closing orphanage had been unable to find adoptive families.

For more than fifty years, AVS has been providing compassionate care for the most vulnerable of our citizens – those with I/DD. Today, AVS is a multi-faceted organization with programs and facilities serving more than 900 children and adults.

Eighty percent (80%) of our residents are diagnosed with severe or profound intellectual disabilities; most also have multiple physical disabilities, medical complications and some have behavioral management needs.

In 2008, AVS was acquired by NHS Human Services (nhsonline.org).  NHS, now including AVS, is the largest non-profit provider of services to individuals with I/DD in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. AVS receives the royalties from The Terrible Towel®.

How did you come to own the rights to The Terrible Towel?

In 1996, Myron Cope, a long-time friend to AVS, walked into former President and CEO Regis Champ’s office and said, “Rege, I’ve got a gift for the school.” He then handed over documents that gave the ownership of The Terrible Towel trademark to AVS.

From that day forward, the proceeds from the sale of any “Terrible Stuff” (including towels, gloves, ties, earrings, blankets, hats, tote bags, cookies, t-shirts and more) have come to AVS. The funds that AVS receives from The Terrible Towel are contributed to the Capital Development Fund and used to cover costs such as equipment, program expansions and renovations to our facilities.

Since 1996, AVS has realized more than $4 million from officially licensed The Terrible Towel products.

So fans know, where do the proceeds go when someone buys a Terrible Towel and does it change at all from year to year?

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of any officially licensed The Terrible Towel product benefits the children and adults in AVS’ care.  The funds that AVS receives from The Terrible Towel are used to cover costs such as equipment, program expansions and renovations to our facilities.  The Terrible Towel directly helps to improve the quality of life for the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are served by AVS.

With more than 125 programs and facilities in nine counties throughout Pennsylvania, AVS’ management is continually reviewing its needs, and moves ahead on projects based on their urgency and availability of funding.

Examples of projects supported by the Towel over the past several years include the installation new elevators at a campus, development of a specialized sensory program, purchase new furnishings and appliances for our homes, expansion and renovation of a day program center, installation of new flooring in dozens of locations, acquisition of standers, communications and other specialized equipment, and so much more.

When the Steelers play, fans around the world enthusiastically wave The Terrible Towel.  And they buy more “Terrible Stuff.”  The more successful the team is on the field, the more enthusiastic the fans.  GO STEELERS!

You also conduct a number of charity events – what are some of those events and how involved is the Steelers organization with the AVS Foundation NHS Allegheny Valley School and those events?

We are grateful for the strong relationship we have with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers are supportive of not only our events but also they provide visits to our sites from Steeley McBeam and open up training camp visits to our consumers.

Do you work with any other Pittsburgh sports teams? If so, how?

We are also fortunate that other sports teams in and around Pittsburgh provide tickets for the residents to attend games and cheer on the home teams.

From time to time, we see organizations try to imitate the towel and sell that as their own. What are the restrictions in doing so?

The Terrible Towel is a trademarked product and any use of the mark requires a contractual arrangement.

Does it frustrate you when you see other teams imitate the Terrible Towel concept for their teams?

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.  However, there is only one The Terrible Towel, and its powers are great.

What have been some of the more satisfying results you’ve realized from the work and proceeds that AVS has realized so far?

The quality of AVS’ programs and facilities are directly impacted by the Steelers Nation through The Terrible Towel.  The Terrible Towel’s long history and the spirit it brings to the Steelers Nation is phenomenal.  AVS is eternally grateful for the legacy Myron Cope has entrusted to us.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Three thoughts:

1.      If you ever see a Terrible Towel product that is not officially licensed (look for the “officially licensed” language), please contact us as soon as possible with details (you can send us a message through avs.nhsonline.org, “Contact Us”);

2.      THANK YOU to the Steelers Nation for your support of AVS; and

3.      GO STEELERS!

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