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2010 Top-Rated Nonprofit

Cody Unser First Step Foundation

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Health, Voluntary Health Associations & Medical Disciplines

Mission: The Cody Unser First Step Foundation is a global not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising research funds, public awareness and quality of life for those afflicted with all forms of spinal cord-related paralysis. The Foundation will also address the cause, rehabilitation, prevention and cure for Transverse Myelitis, and freely affiliate with other medical, charitable and corporate entities to achieve these goals.

Target demographics: CUFSF’s main focus is to raise awareness for TM and paralysis, to establish Quality of Life programs through scuba diving, and to push scientific research.  With the number of people affected by TM and paralysis rising, the demand for the programs and initiatives set in motion by CUFSF, and the benefits of our future plans for the foundation, will be reaching levels that we would have never imagined.

Geographic areas served: Global


***Quality of Life: "Cody's Great Scuba Adventures" and "Operation Deep Down" these programs are designed to use Scuba Diving as a tool for therapeutic and psychological value to promote healing.***

***Awareness initiatives: Awareness is an important priority due to the sense of urgency when faced with an auto-immune disorder. This includes first responder support for auto-immune disorder patients looking for resources and help. As part of this initiative, CUFSF plans to continue developing and maintaining a concrete and user friendly manual and WEB Portal that provides access to disability information. (Visit www.cufsf.org, CUFSF’s Facebook and Twitter). We also use more traditional forms of creating awareness such as hosting and supporting industry related symposiums and conferences.***

***Advocacy initiatives: Advocacy influences the outcomes of public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Our goal is to ensure that decisions made by federal and state governments are aligned with the needs of the general public, especially those with spinal cord-related injuries advocacy is imperative.***

***Medical research initiatives: CUFSF intends to maintain existing partnerships within the medical field as well as encourage collaboration with new hospitals and biotech organizations to bring technology and research programs to the forefront. This initiative will develop opportunities for the disabled community to participate in clinical trials, new treatments/remedies, medicinal therapies and activity-based therapies. More importantly, to prevent secondary conditions, we must be a voice promoting proper health and wellness for overall preventative care.***

Community Stories

4 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters


Board Member

Rating: 5

For Cody the personal is political: she has taken her personal tragedy of being completely paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 12 by TM and become a tireless national advocate for not only stem cell research but the improvement of quality life through the organization she founded in her name, the Cody Unser First Step Foundation. She is as forceful in her advocacy of government officials and legislatures through education and public discourse as she is compassionate in her tireless support of other individuals who have been personally stricken by similar disabling illnesses. Cody has the ability to create opportunities to advance her aims, such as weaving together a college major that combined public advocacy with scientific education, giving her the ability to serve as both an instructor and translator for politicians, scientists, and fellow patients. She is not only a gifted writer, but also a charismatic and compelling public speaker, two abilities that will serve her well in her pursuit of a public health degree. As if by design, following a master plan conceived of while she was a pre-teenager, Cody has followed a carefully crafted journey that has taken her to the front steps of public health school in order to equip her with the necessary tools to effect change in the policies and legislation that have bearing on the lives of the millions worldwide whose lives have been altered by physical challenges. Armed with the ability to communicate, persuade and educate, which will be made more powerful with a knowledge of the public health industry, I am certain that Cody will change the world in ways that even she, despite her audacious hope, cannot yet fully appreciate. Cody will prove that you can reach for the sky from a seated position as well as from a standing one, and bring back stars to illuminate the darkest despair and show the way to a brighter future.


Board Member

Rating: 5

I first met Cody at the University of Redlands where she was a student of mine. When she was hit with TM at the age of 13, many would have given up. Her determination to make a difference in the lives of other disabled individuals is what most stands out in my mind. Through the dedication of many individuals, the foundation has touched the lives of numerous disabled persons through research, increased awareness, and the scuba program which allows participants to experience the freedom of movement often lacking in their everyday lives. This pushes participants to reach beyond their disabilities and to consider what is possible. To witness this transformation is something everyone should see. This non-profit is destined to have an even more tremendous impact in the future and I am thrilled to be part of it.


Board Member

Rating: 5

Cody Unser First Step Foundation and its programs / Cody's Great Scuba Adventures and Operation Deep Down has been dedicated to Veterans and civilians with Disability's for over 10 years. Im a para and have become a certified PADI rec. diver and completed my HSA buddy diver certification through this organization. My wife is also a disabled veteran and both her and my son, age 15, are also certified. This program is the best of the best with profrofessional highly trained divers who are also Military Active or Retired and volinteer thier time to help the disabled community accross the USA.

14 shelley3

Board Member

Rating: 5

We are a passionate group of volunteers working towards a cure for paralysis and in the mean time we provide adaptive scuba diving as a quality of life program with Cody's Dive Team, operation Deep Down. The Dive Team is composed of 100% volunteers, most of them veterans, who train dive professionals to become HSA certified, and provide disabled people with an opportunity to Discover Scuba and then pursue their Scuba Certification. Watch our scuba videos on YouTube if you want to be impressed by our dedicated volunteers!