Alabama’s lead singer, Randy Owen had a pivotal vision that came to life for the first time in 1989 when the Country Cares radiothon was born. 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of this event, which has since become one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in radio history, according to St. Jude.
During this year’s annual Country Cares seminar, members of the country music industry gathered with one goal in mind, to spread awareness and collaborate on ways to raise money for St Jude Children’s hospital. With the growing digital age, influencers of different mediums were also invited to attend and give their feedback on how to get their audiences involved in the cause.
Beginning Thursday (Oct. 4), attendees began to emerge into Memphis, TN. For many, it was their first time participating, and they were unsure of what the weekend would hold. The experience started out with a tour of the St. Jude campus.
On the way, those in attendance passed the construction site of what will soon become the next set of housing offered to the 8,600 patients that are treated at St. Jude each year. This new facility comes in addition to the already instated Ronald McDonald House and Target House, which has served as a “home away from home” for families who need to reside close to the Memphis campus.
The first stop on-site was in the Tamer-Rashid building which offered a look inside the growing digital efforts surrounding the hospital, including realistic holograms and 3D printers. Guests were shown the new ways St. Jude is making an effort to keep the world informed on its mission to provide care for children with pediatric cancer without their families having to pay a single dime.
The tour featured a look inside Dr. Rudolph Jackson’s work on what has become one of the largest sickle cell programs and how the patients are also able to contribute with their artwork, creating a fun environment for all. One child even invented their very own superhero videogame called “Quincey’s Quest” whose mission is to help fight cancer.
Emotions were running high seeing personal videos from patients as they openly shared their experiences with St. Jude. Then, it was time to step into a lab to see the life-changing progress that is being made among the staff.
Every inch of St. Jude has a purpose, even the décor. Direct use of symbolism covers the entirety of the campus from the lights in the cafeteria that reflect the shape of DNA for water and caffeine, to artwork emulating the idea that the curtain is wide open for anyone at St. Jude, the way Danny Thomas had always intended it to be.
Before he founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and its fundraising and awareness organization, ALSAC, Thomas worked as an actor. Throughout his career, he prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, to help guide him. He promised that if he achieved great success in his career one day, he would build a shrine to the saint for his help.
Eventually, he reached that goal and in 1955, he and a team of business professionals got to work on fulfilling his pledge and created the first fully integrated hospital in the south. Not only did he work to build a treatment facility, but it also became a research center for children worldwide. Thomas fought against the obstacles of society and made St. Jude a place for anyone, regardless of race, religion, or financial status.
After returning from the campus, members of the media got their first taste of stories from those who have directly benefited from the care at St. Jude. Former patients and now ALSAC employees, Lindsey and Joel Alsup, each shared their own joyful experiences at the hospital. They had already captured the hearts of those in attendance by showing their bravery as young kids battling cancer, but nothing could have prepared the crowd for the heartfelt news that came next.
They revealed that they had met at St. Jude as patients, became friends who supported each other through treatments, and are now happily married with their own kids. St. Jude was such a big part of their lives that they even chose to tie the knot on the campus.
“There was nothing better than having this person to look up to, to help me laugh at cancer when days were tough, to admire, to beat me at everything we tried, and then also to share this passion of coming back and working for this incredible mission,” Lindsey shared.
On Friday evening, a 1960s anniversary party was held, allowing attendees to dress up in their throwback attire and enjoy a night of dancing, singing, and celebrations. Gogo boots, bright-colored outfits and ’60s-inspired accessories took over the top floor of the Peabody Hotel.
The next day, several more heartwarming success stories were shared throughout the various sessions, but not everyone was lucky enough to have the same outcome. On Saturday morning (Oct. 8), husband and wife, John and Jennifer Wampler took the stage to take attendees through their journey at St. Jude. They, unfortunately, revealed that their child, Lizzy, was not able to win her battle against cancer. Even with their devastating loss, they have continued to keep their daughter’s memories alive by sharing their comforting experience with St. Jude.
Not only was the hospital there to provide as much help as possible for their daughter, but the staff and services offered also provided them with a great deal of comfort and understanding throughout the process.
For the final session of the week, a few younger patients and some of their family members sat in front of attendees to open up about the hardship they endured both mentally and physically while fighting childhood cancer. The energy in the room shifted back and forth from sadness to relief and pride as they each explained what they have been up to since ending their treatments. One revealed that she is now giving back to the organization that allowed her to be alive today by working on the marketing team for ALSAC. The session ended on a joyful note as the former patient and her sibling invited the attendees to come together in singing a beautiful rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Many country music artists got involved this year including Restless Road, Breland, George Birge, Randy Owen, and plenty more. They also were given the opportunity to tour the St. Jude campus and gain a new perspective on their mission.
“You’ve seen all the stories come to life today of all the patients and their families ad how big of an impact this place had on them and just how much it’s shaped and changed who they are, not only from a physical standpoint, but just who they became and wanting to give back to this place,” Restless Road shared.
During the closing event for the Country Cares Seminar in Memphis, TN, one country superstar in particular was honored at the closing dinner. Scotty McCreery was presented with the 2022 Randy Owen Angels Among Us award by the Alabama lead singer himself to commend his ongoing commitment and service to the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“Thank y’all for being here tonight. Randy, thank you for bringing this country music family together so we can all come together and support St. Jude and their wonderful mission. St. Jude, thank you for your mission in helping these kids, these families here in Memphis, here in this country, and all around the world. Y’all are doing amazing work. Proud to get this award,” McCreery said as he concluded his speech.
Each attendee walked away with a “This Shirt Saves Lives” t-shirt, which anyone can receive with a donation of $19 or more per month that will go towards the ongoing effort to provide research and care for pediatric cancer patients.
According to St. Jude, “Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% since it opened more than 50 years ago. We won’t stop until no child dies from cancer. Because of St. Jude supporters, countless children have enjoyed a lifetime of moments they might otherwise have missed.”
Find out how you can donate here.