Katrina Schoenwald and Brett Schoenwald

Recorded February 26, 2020 Archived February 26, 2020 35:00 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019699


Katrina Oh Schoenwald (35) talks with her husband Brett Schoenwald (39) about how they met at a fundraiser for Able Advocates, a non-profit Katrina founded, what it was like to lose their son Nate and why they keep the non-profit going in his name.

Subject Log / Time Code

KOS talks about why she wanted to speak with BS about their work together and why she started a non-profit called Able Advocates.
BS talks about what he does for a living and how he and KOS met through a fundraiser for her non-profit.
KOS and BS recall the next time they worked together a year later and the time BS visited KOS and her son in the hospital.
KOS and BS reflect on how great BS has been with the kids. They recall the day their son Nate died.
BS and KOS reflect on the effects of Nate's passing, big and small, and why they kept the non-profit going.
KOS talks about her and BS's work partnership and why it was important to keep Nate's legacy alive. KOS and BS talk about what they're proud of and how they want to grow.
BS and KOS describe what Nate was like and some of the things he liked to do.
KOS talks about what's next for the non-profit. BS talks about what's next for him.


  • Katrina Schoenwald
  • Brett Schoenwald

Recording Location



StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:05 I'm Katrina Osho involved 35 years old. Today is Wednesday, February 26th, 2020. We are in Fresno California and I am interviewing bread Brett schoenwald my husband. This is Wednesday, February 26th 2020 in Fresno, California.

00:31 And my partner is my lovely wife Katrina schoenwald.

00:38 You ready to start? I don't know. Where where do we start? Well today? I actually wanted to bring you I'm specifically you even though yes having started the nonprofit. I really wanted to kind of showcase our interaction how we have worked on a lot of projects together and no one has really heard our side of the story with it.

01:10 So I thought maybe you would be a good opportunity to kind of show our story.

01:16 Cue music

01:19 What do you do for a living? I started a non-profit, which was based solely on my experience with my son Nathan.

01:29 Nathan was my third child. I have two other girls who I've been very fortunate that were healthy when they were born, but my son unfortunately was not and through my struggles and they're my journey. I decided that I needed to start something where I could help other families similar to what I was going through with Nathan.

01:57 So I started able Advocates and it is a nonprofit that provides services and equipment for children with special needs that either get denied or waiting for authorization through insurance.

02:12 Do you feel like there is a lot of families get denied for that reason is my whole experience with Nathan was kind of a tricky one. He was born with a really rare brain disorder, which just didn't have a code for insurance and frankly. No one really knew what it was. So Insurance just flat denied us cuz it didn't have a specific code. So they're like, oh no you get nothing. Yeah, and when you're looking at my child, then you're with Nate, right? I mean, you can totally tell that something was off something was wrong. He wasn't eating he wasn't, you know, when I was breastfeeding he wasn't sucking he wasn't focusing. He wasn't tracking my finger. I mean there really was a difference.

03:05 And so when we finally got a diagnosis which was you know his brain disorder.

03:15 They just said I'm really sorry. He's going to be a vegetable. I'm sure.

03:28 He's too far gone, and I don't think our services are going to make a difference for him. So good luck.

03:37 So

03:44 Should I talk about what I do now, or do you want to

03:49 Can I continue on their yeah, I mean

03:53 When I started the nonprofit, I always thought inclusion would be a huge thing for us. And so one of the things that we do is having a pancake breakfast pancakes, we may well we met through a mutual friend actually.

04:23 Don't say his name cuz he'll just to the hijacked this entire conversation. He's a really good friend of mine who is actually the best man at my wedding our wedding I should say and he's a great guy, but we met through this nonprofit be kind of hit me up and it goes back to what I do on the side. Normally my day job is on the paramedic sometimes permitted supervisor here in Fresno County and I Kings County respectively, but aside from that I like to dress up like Star Wars characters some part of this giant group of type A personality type of people who called the five-oh-first legion are they are the world's largest Star Wars costuming club and we work hand-in-hand with lucasfilm and now Disney to do a lot of these events and bring people out to these charitable.

05:13 Things to me no, drum up some some good times and some photographs with the kids and adults likewise, but I he hit me up and he was like, hey, man, I got this pancake the Olympic pancakes with a pancake breakfast and he's like

05:33 And at the time we were, you know, we were growing pretty hard with all these troops. I was we call him and you know, we wanted to see it. We were trying to outdo each other in like how many events we could attend.

05:44 So he hits me up and

05:47 I showed up and

05:49 It was at a tiny with a park like a little time the tiniest building ever.

05:55 And there's probably about 10 of us there at an all-inclusive Park disability accessible Park. The only one Fresno don't downplay that. Okay. Well it does all inclusive Park had a really small changing room that you designated for us. I remember just kind of getting that we had to go in there like one at a time and change out and so there was no dramatic grand entrance of all the characters cuz we kind of trickle out one at a time and

06:26 I remember showing up and talking to my buddy and just kind of getting the lay down and I remember us like who's in charge of this pot mess it we're doing right now and it's like I kind of look and I was

06:40 As I just come up immediately with this person screaming and everyone with pancake batter spoons flying and kids running. But yeah, I just I couldn't help it. But I mean it was definitely like a huge connection. Like the first time I saw you I don't believe you but it took some convincing but you did you did walk in on me changing quite a few times more than anyone else and I was kind of like those chickens crazy with but yeah, I just other other than just like, how how beautiful I Thought You Think You Are

07:26 Definitely the nonprofit was something that we have never done before cuz like usually we do things with make a wish and do you know that the nonprofit is such an amazing program in itself. But so, you know, we usually do things for bigger Charities. Nothing really local or anything like this when I heard about April I would kids so I was just like stunned by how amazing this thing is because I'm always rooting for the underdog is sending a lot of these families are Underdog types of families who you know are consoling getting denied by insurance companies and I thought like this organization is amazing like

08:05 Truly and so that that kind of made me fall even harder for you and wake you aren't just that yelling have Korean Hatchet the spatulas, you know.

08:22 But yeah, I know it's funny that you point out later like all the photos that we we took together. Like I was always making sure I was all stuck right next to you about 20 different poses and you are always standing next to me. You couldn't see my eyes under the mask until scene.

08:46 Well after that.

08:49 We ended up again up again for a next events and you actually helped us with our t-shirt next event Messina what you knew that our pancake breakfast is coming up and you decided to introduce yourself again felt like this was a really good opportunity because I spent a year trying to figure this out.

09:19 Like how to hey look at me. So yeah, I think I think for that time around I ended up designing a t-shirt for you to you. No sell for that fundraising aspect of the breakfast and I think for me it was okay. I'm giving this guy a chance and it was an incredible shirt.

09:53 See how that the next time around it was definitely like that.

09:57 The turning point for both of us cuz I mean like I even sat next to you at that point. I wasn't just like creeper.

10:10 Yeah, like that was definitely like a huge turning point for us. And that's when we really kind of started interacting more and it it started in a business first. It was always like for that.

10:22 Non-profit for the kids and everything like that and then eventually like we just started talking more and more and then it's like a come hang out and I think

10:33 It was actually Nate when he he got sick one time. He is at the hospital what I do for you.

10:40 Oh, you came to the hospital and you brought me care package the biggest care package Walgreens could make

10:53 Funny thing was that all the nurses knew you

10:59 And so when you came up they were poking at me all night long make sure that I gave you a chance.

11:15 Yeah, I remember I just remember sitting with you and watching it and Brett and I just felt like wearing a incredible mother you you are.

11:23 And that I'm

11:26 Psychiatry probably think about putting a ring on this one at some point because she's going to kill away and I'll never see her again and I'm heartbroken. And so that just seemed like from there. It was just this huge spiraling out of control like romance and just Adventure really

11:51 I think once we became official even I know you were great with Nate, but you were great with all the kids and made such a big difference with the girls with Nate with my whole family you really like completed, but I was missing not just in my personal life but professional also with the nonprofit.

12:18 It made sense the other girls for I mean, I've never had kids before and I don't even really grow up the kids even my little brother. I didn't really grow up with him. And so I've always been kind of solo my whole life as far as that aspect and then like when I'm walking into this house and now there's like these these three children I should say that young adults now.

12:41 It took some getting used to but it it did Flo really well almost kind of unexpectedly and suspiciously, well me and her bonded almost immediately. She's kind of a nerd like me Perry Potter Star Wars all day mean insert franchise here the older one. We we definitely, you know had some things come to a head at some point, but I think currently we really do truly love each other and respect each other now, you know, she knows I'm not going anywhere.

13:15 And all that, so

13:17 I mean, I think every day I end up texting her at some point while she's at school that I love her and she responds back the same.

13:24 Today I took her Benadryl for no reason at all. The little things I think she just makes things up to get attention, but I don't mind giving it so.

13:38 Everything everything is going pretty crazy until.

13:41 Couple years later when Nate passed was October 28th.

13:49 And I

13:52 That enough for all of us was pivotal and how we were going to continue what we were going to do with the business how we're going to keep going with our family supporting each other.

14:07 And it definitely was a time for me that I realized. I didn't want to give you up. I remember I remember that the house I was at work and it was the second day of my 48-hour shift that I was working and

14:27 That's cuz it's kind of crazy cuz the day before us talking to the supervisor on duty and he was complaining about people calling in sick and going home and like nobody we got it. We got to carry the weight of everyone else like yeah, I mean the things happen right and then the following morning. I got a phone call from the oldest Michaela.

14:47 She's like, hey moms on the phone with the cops. You need to come home. Like Nate's sick or the ambulances. Goodnight or something like that, and I was like what and so I looked at my phone to see you.

14:59 What the ambulance was doing over at?

15:03 Ornate was and I saw the call went out for cardiac arrest and I was like shoot and so I called the supervisor and I need to leave and he's like are you kidding of Mike? My my kid is like they're doing CPR on a map to and he was like, oh god. Oh man. Don't worry about it. And so I remember get in the car and is a long drive is one drive to Fresno from Avenue and just the entire time. I'm just thinking like what I mean so many scenarios in my head like for an hour like all the things are going to change all that like what's going to happen, you know, is he? Okay cuz I know none of these details and

15:48 Finally got to the hospital and all the nurses, you know nurses are like hey, what's up? I'm like, hey my kids here. I don't know and then right.

16:03 Oh and that the town like totally changed or Batman. They're actually really great and I couldn't think of enough for they they came in and checked on us a lot and

16:17 That it was just one of those the worst day I've ever had.

16:23 Yeah, I mean I can only imagine how to get that phone call.

16:33 And find out like hey, you know his

16:38 He's going to hospital like what's going on in just the confusion and then the outcome is just like something you never expected. You know, I remember actually end up writing a story about the whole thing like a short story about.

16:56 How much I hate cookies now because of how many trades would keep showing up at the house, you know, I'm Buster Hearts like everyone I kept coming over they would just you know, like no one. No one really knows what to do and it's obvious and I could but it's still like everyone's grateful for it. And but yeah, I just remember that's part of my own therapeutic process like I end up writing like a pretty big story about it and just

17:31 Overall, the context was like how much I hate cookies just because you know, like it's it's like I'm done eating these things to try to like

17:41 Navigate around the fact that our kid died, you know.

17:46 I ate dessert, I think for a whole week. It's definitely likes this kind of eye-opening.

17:59 Something good. I did come out of it was the empathy if we have no further family's cuz you know, we kind of know what they're going through. Now when whenever they have a loved one that passes for so many years. I was picking up equipment from families where their childhood pass and they were getting rid of bed and going through their process and I Tom and just be grateful for the fact that they were willing to donate it, but it never really had that connection. I just kind of felt like I understand what part of the club yeah, you know.

18:39 Does a full circle around you immediate families that you're helping fight for and then you meet family is that

18:48 You you know you feel like

18:53 You're still there for each other no matter what Nathan dying. Like why do you feel like you need to help these other family associate just because like

19:04 Thank you. You need to feel like the spokesperson or you need to have the organization kind of help the families because of the insurance problems. Now that Nate is gone. It's it's it means so much more to me just to keep his name going as Legacy the fact that we put forth so much effort to help these families and there was no way I could step away just because my story ended it just it we wanted to make sure that we were still

19:45 We were stopping the community like what was going to happen to the nonprofit, you know the funeral I think a week later we had an event and I had to pull that thing together and I had to smile and you know, make sure that everything was getting done and but at the same time I think having that event so close to make sure that I was getting up and moving before I came in but you need to shower already all the girls in the house. We're just like

20:32 Decomposing in their beds and I know you know enough's enough people. We need to live on you can't you can't just like I'm on my eighth cookie and it's 9 a.m. So you guys need to get up.

20:46 And what activities do you like doing with me at the business?

20:50 Well, obviously your design your creative and that's not my forte. What's the weather so just being able to say hey, I I want to put this together but I can't really constructed or I have an idea and then you just pull it all together and you make it look so effortless least favorite thing is like when you give me an idea and then I Photoshop in you coming halfway through and it's just like a mess. But to me, I'm like no it's like these are the words. I need to haven't changed anything yet. You come in here, like now this is horrible and I'm like, you're not even if they go away because like I am not done yet and then like an hour later you'll come back in like to see that's what I wanted on my call really cuz that's what I had planned the whole time.

21:37 So it definitely is fun for me. It gets my creative juices flowing and I like doing all the graphic stuff for people having kids and

21:47 And all that in them.

21:49 It's true. It's a really neat thing to be part of.

21:55 Now that needs gone like why is it so important to keep his legacy gone?

22:01 I really feel like

22:04 Nate was loved by so many. I mean even at the funeral I think between the visitation and graveside and I mean we had 400 500 people come through some people work. I mean that didn't even know Nathan, but they know about nonprofit. They know what we were doing. They know how much he meant to the community and that in itself. I mean, there's just no way that we couldn't appreciate all the love and we were so grateful for that. And so

22:37 Having having even you know, every year we do our birthday celebration for him and seem to come out and our fundraiser for him. And it's it's just huge and I knew that

22:53 He means more and there is a reason why he was here. I mean, I know he was born because somebody needed to start the nonprofit and I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off. But you everyone else would have just like freaked out and it is but now I think like maybe the reason he passed is because we have other plans now that is I think I felt

23:24 I had to stay in a certain.

23:28 Certain area with it and I couldn't grow it because I was still busy with him and me when I do and grow and bring programs and change so much.

23:48 So what are you the most proud about?

23:54 Working with able Advocate hands down the shirt designs. Like it it it definitely has taught me to be so much more giving to the community in like have understanding and I mean my day job as a paramedic like we do respond occasionally to these these calls with special needs kids and everything and

24:19 It's kind of crazy. Cuz sometimes I know them through the nonprofit no more like what's going on in and it's it helps me understand a lot better like these kids in their the problems they faced and how I can treat them like amazing and get in the hospital in like the parents are just so much fun to be around.

24:41 Is a lot of love in this nonprofit.

24:46 I do now that you're talk about that. I do remember one of the calls you took in the ambulance and someone called and said hey, it's taking us.

25:01 Meetings for

25:04 Talk to me up a little bit. I'm sure.

25:10 I don't I don't remember that. I run somebody calls, but I'm sure we did good.

25:18 Yeah.

25:21 What was Nathan like holy cow. He was anxious. I would say he definitely had a sense of humor. He was nonverbal. He didn't you know, he was unable to walk or anything like that because a large portion of his brain was missing but

25:39 Every now and then like I know this dude would do things on purpose just a toy with me like he would a thing that we had we had to keep on his arms do that called no nose no nose, which are they so some sometimes children were like scratch constantly their faces and you know, like crazy like open wounds and things every now and then where these like kind of like pads and throw it like as far as he could right after I put it on he would know he would laugh you left and I would just like you're a jerk or even if Steve is all the way the back of the bus he could throw it and hit the back of the bus driver's head.

26:39 I mean that's just one of the amazing things about me. It was like, you know, even though he he couldn't communicate traditionally or anything like that, but the dude would literally laugh at us all the time.

26:52 And you know, we got a little corgi puppy at some point and they would play together and we're always like they play together. I don't even know like a thing like and he loved that dog to figure out how to take off that he would pull off his arm brace and then they would laugh together cuz that dog would take it outside or did I mean they really would ya is pretty off and then come out and see them both like

27:28 I don't know plotting against me. Yeah, and I would watch shows some trashy, you know Housewives show or something. He would send me to the remote and he would try to change the channel.

27:47 Something that nobody likes you, but he was loved because you know and even at nine years old I can hold them like a baby on the couch.

28:12 Yeah, they take it pretty hard.

28:15 I think at the end there were really protective. So a lot of the times we would go out in public are going to dinner and people would look at him and our stair and our oldest one. She picked it up and say would you like to say hello. Is there a question that we can answer for you? Really?

28:37 Really would make sure that no one treated him differently. I probably made her a stronger person in general not cuz she's now a pretty big advocate for friends.

28:50 And I know she's considering like a my career in nursing.

28:56 Definitely willing to passes our history class.

29:01 I miss the routine of like getting up in the morning and doing the meds things like that. I mean I was kind of a pain but it just became routine and then like after you pass those like

29:16 Weird right little things like that still stuck in to get me.

29:23 We did have a good little teamwork system going. I mean it's weird to go from like single to like Father three one special needs and a dog like almost overnight.

29:37 I thought was kind of nuts think about it, but I wouldn't be anywhere else right now find it.

29:45 I love it so much.

29:47 Yep.

29:50 But there is so many stories even.

29:54 I mean anybody who sees me now, they still talk about Nate and tell me cute little things are things you did at school or

30:04 Everyone loved him.

30:07 It's what's in it for the future.

30:10 With a non-profit

30:12 Reese's going well, you already know that we are so full capacity where we're at officewise and the warehouse picking up equipment from families and the truck and bringing it to the house and cleaning it and repurposing in the garage. You would have killed me. If we were together during that time you there's no way you would have let me have such a chaos at the house.

30:54 But I didn't have no place we can have a place we can have funds to do that. And anything that I was getting it was going straight to repurposing the equipment and and so coming from that it's been amazing to see the growth and now knowing we're going to have to start looking for a bigger spot. Maybe maybe Outreach stuff a little bit. They carriage.

31:27 I don't know. It means it's it's cat is constantly growing more and more families are finding out about a able Advocates and they're starting to use us a lot more than they used to and

31:40 The agency's even I don't even know the number. It's really because of you. I mean we were growing so far. I mean, I got a phone call the other day from Dana Point. So yeah down and got the Southern California. FYI when we go to La in a couple weeks. I'm bringing in equipment to them just so you know, but that's what it's like that it's growing so big and there is nothing like us there's there really is nothing in the nation that has the equipment for all kinds of stuff in it.

32:31 Something a lot of people and I just I'm so grateful that we are able to do this every day and in doing it. Remember Nate remember the good times the craziness that happened with us. Everyone just needs to remember the good times past in like just everyone is kind of needs to figure out how to grow from it and learn from it.

32:59 So thanks for bringing me here. So cool. I don't have any question besides design a t-shirt with a non-profit. I'm back in school. I haven't you heard.

33:19 Helping me with my math homework. But yeah, I'm back in school. Hopefully on track to become a physical therapist at some point.

33:27 I'm with you going to school. What are your aspirations? I mean, are you looking to come on with able Advocates? But right now know I like I'd like to have my own practice. I do want to specialize in Special Needs in geriatrics. They're probably my two favorite age groups in.

33:49 Types of people, you know, the special needs kids are great. They try really hard and they can't really do wrong in the geriatric crowd site. I mean when I work with them, they're a little salty so you can talk to them a certain way and they didn't answer right back. So it's a lot of fun.

34:05 So hopefully that's that's where I'm at in a few years.

34:14 I'm really grateful.

34:16 And that we got to share this journey this crazy journey and anti Next Adventure on the radio Sound. Oh, yeah. Thanks for appreciating that.

34:42 Why?