CREE = BELIEVE July 22, 2013

Valentina and "Luly" Hernández

Valentina and “Luly” Hernández (Photos courtesy of CREE, A.C. and “El Norte”, 2002)

This is a story of hope, a story of one mother’s love, a tale of tragedy turned to triumph. This is the story of CREE, A.C. (BELIEVE).

Gloria María de Lourdes Hernández de la Torre, or “Luly,” was born in 1960, the year John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States. The U.S. and Russia were locked in a fierce space race and the Baby Boomer boom was in full swing. Ken Kesey was two years away from publishing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, his novel about an anti-athoritarian patient in a mental hospital whose behavior was “solved” with a lobotomy.

In 1960 in Mexico, there was little help for the severely mentally disabled or for their families, none in Monterrey or the entire state of Nuevo León. For a baby like Luly, so seriously handicapped that she could neither cry nor suckle, the future was bleak. A neurologist summed up the situation for her parents, José and Valentina Hernández, declaring she would be a vegetable with a short life. He suggested they look into U.S. institutions for the severely disabled.

After several years of searching for solutions, José had resigned himself to sending Luly to one of the American institutions they had visited. But Valentina wouldn’t hear of shipping off her young daughter. She continued to research, make contacts, pay visits and network to the point of exchanging letters with Bobby Kennedy regarding his sister Rosemary and St. Coletta’s the Wisconsin facility where she resided.

In 1964, CREE, A.C. was founded by the Hernándezes and other parents of mentally disabled children. The curriculum was based on St. Coletta’s which had impressed Valentina during a visit. The acronym stands for Centro Regiomontano de Educación Especial, A.C. or Monterrey Center for Special Education. The A.C., Asociacion Civil, is the Mexican designation for a non-profit organization, similar to a 501(c)(3) status in the United States.

Nearly a half-century later, CREE, A.C. and its 70 students are thriving. The school accepts students from 8 months on with no upper age limit. The wait list currently has 94 names. Families of half the CREE students previously applied to other special education institutions which exist today in Monterrey and were told their loved ones were too handicapped for their programs. Tuition at CREE is $3,650 pesos per month, about $275 dollars. Eighty-five percent of the families receive financial aid.

Class sizes range from 8-12 students with one teacher and two aides. Volunteers and parents often help during the 9:00 to 1:00 school day. Afternoons are reserved for one-on-one therapy sessions, family counseling and education. “We want to develop each student’s life to the fullest,” says Adriana Hernández Cedillo, Director of Communication and Fundraising. A granddaughter of the founders, Hernández Cedillo holds a Master’s in Applied Communication for Corporate Social Responsibility.

Last year when a large, older house next door came up for sale, CREE, A.C. purchased it with plans to demolish the structure and build an addition that will eventually house 50 more students. The complete plan is 5-10 years from fruition, the biggest challenge being funding. The day I visited, the front veranda was lined with stacks of Krispy Kreme Doughnut boxes atop folding tables. “Fundraising,” Hernández Cedillo explained. “When parents come for their children, they pick up their orders.”    

The most beautiful moment of the visit came when we walked into a classroom of adult students seated in a circle of desks. A woman on the other side of the room smiled broadly and waved. “That’s my aunt Luly.” Hernández Cedillo said, returning the greeting. The next day was Luly’s fifty-third birthday.

Click here to see a video of CREE, A.C.
Below are more photos of CREE students.       



  1. Thanks for reminding me that Mothers can really make a difference. So happy to read the story of Luly and know that Mexico is able to nurture this population. Somehow before your blog, it just never crossed my mind. You always seem to open windows to my world, dear friend.

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