The face of the Heart of Texas Shriners for most area residents is seen in the members in costume who appear in parades, and who bring their circus to town each year, as they are doing tonight at the Brownwood Coliseum. But for others, the face of Shriners is reflected in the eyes of children whose families depend on this benevolent organization to provide them with specialized medical care ó at no charge.

A story in todayís Bulletin tells how just one local family is benefiting from the services provided by the Shriners Hospital for Children. But there are hundreds of thousands of similar stories out there. Perhaps one of them is in your family, or in your neighborhood.

Shriners Hospitals for Children is a network of 22 pediatric hospitals in the U.S., Canada and Mexico providing specialized care for orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate. Since 1922, Shriners Hospitals for Children has provided some of the best medical care in the world, totally free of charge, to more than 835,000 children. Eligibility for care is not based on financial need or relationship to a Shriner.

The Shriners of North America is a fraternal organization established in 1872 with a current international membership of approximately 412,000 and 191 Shrine Centers. The Shrine supports the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children throughout North America, but others are welcome to support this important work as well. Itís an expensive effort.

Shriners Hospitalsí total budget for 2007 is $721 million, of which $655 million is targeted for operating expenses (including $37 million for research) and $66 million for buildings and equipment expenditures, according to its Web site. During the nearly 85-year history of the Shriners Hospitals, it has cost approximately $8.2 billion to operate Shriners Hospitals, and over $1.76 billion has been spent on construction and renovation.

The hospitals do not accept funding from insurance providers or government agencies, but instead rely solely on the charitable efforts of the Shrine of North America and donations from the public.

Tonightís Shrine Circus will be an entertaining evening for families throughout the area. A quality circus is something that remains a treat for adults as well as youngsters because it features acts that cannot be seen anywhere else. Thatís appropriate, because due to the Shrinersí efforts, children with specific medical needs are able to receive services that they might not be able to obtain otherwise.

Go to the circus and have a good time. You know itís for a good cause.

Brownwood Bulletin