Stepping up for Mississippi children by going the extra mile for the state’s only children’s hospital.
Every great journey begins with a single step. That first step for Friends of Children’s Hospital was taken by Dr. Owen “Bev” Evans in 1989 when he was named chairman of the pediatrics department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Dr. Evans asked for just three things – the department’s first computer, its first printer to go with it and permission to create a Friends of Children’s Hospital fundraising group. Dr. Evans had seen how Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital had benefitted from a Friends organization at that medical center when he served as an assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. He was convinced that the same thing could happen for Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital, and he was committed to make that happen. You might say that his first step, was more of a giant leap, because Evans’ primary goal for Friends of Children’s Hospital was to help fund a new hospital to replace the existing children’s facility built in 1968, which was sorely lacking in space and privacy.
After presenting his dream to Dr. Norman C. Nelson, then vice chancellor for health affairs, Evans agreed to take on a daunting challenge – if Friends could raise enough to fund the fifth floor of a new hospital, Nelson would commit to build the other four.
Evans lost no time in organizing Friends, starting by recruiting Suzan Thames, who would be the first president of the organization’s board of directors. Thames, an audiologist was also a member of the Junior League of Jackson and had played a major role in the planning and fundraising for the Mississippi Children’s Cancer Clinic, a gargantuan fundraising project in and of itself. Her enthusiasm and connections in the community would prove to be invaluable to the fledgling Friends organization, setting a high bar for those who would follow.
Evans’ vision for Friends included taking a role in bringing together all of the community-support groups that were separately fundraising for Children’s Hospital. He saw the value in coordinating their efforts and improving communication so all of the entities could work together instead of competing for fundraising dollars.
After an initial meeting to introduce the idea of Friends to representatives from other fundraising groups and members of the community, the organization kicked off its first general membership meeting in the fall of 1989. With cash on hand of just over $3,000, the group developed a plan for its first fundraising project, Light-a-Light. Donors would contribute $10 each to light a single light on Batson’s Christmas tree or $250 for an Eternal Light. The project was a success and Friends ended its first year with a budget of $44,000, $3,000 of which they designated to start a new children’s hospital building fund.
With the goal of the new hospital still in the distant future, the organization chose to begin immediately taking smaller steps toward making the existing hospital more child and family friendly, while continuing to develop other fundraising mechanisms to build their building fund coffers. Although the smaller projects, such as providing coffee for each patient floor, decorating the lobby for the holidays and supporting the new Child Life program, might have seemed unremarkable on the surface, to Children’s patients and their families they meant the world. They were the foundation of the organization’s mission, and they were also just the beginning of what was to come.
In 1997, less than ten years after the organization’s founding, with the help of Friend’s burgeoning fundraising efforts the new Children’s Hospital opened its doors. Since that time the organization has helped to fund the new surgery center that comprises the 6th and 7th floors, the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics, renovations and additions to the emergency room, the Children’s Heart Center and Chapel renovation. Other projects have provided activity room supplies, the H.U.G.s program, a state-of-the-art patient education and entertainment system, a palliative care van, and so much more.
Friends of Children’s Hospital members, sponsors, volunteers and supporters join with Batson Children’s Hospital every day to meet the extraordinary needs of caring for Mississippi’s sick and injured children (more than 150,000 each year). Together, they have raised more than $15 million to improve children’s health care by building statewide community support through volunteerism, fundraising events and awareness efforts – monumental steps in an ever-expanding journey of caring and service.
What’s on the horizon? This spring Friends is planning a daring fundraising event April 16, 2016 with a goal of raising $100,000. When a few Friends board members saw organizations in other cities holding “Over the Edge” events to raise funding for their pet projects they thought it would be worth looking into for one of their signature events. So what’s it all about? Friends is looking for 76 participants willing to rappel down the 14-story Trustmark Corporate office building – in other words, go Over the Edge with Friends of Children’s Hospital. Each participant must raise at least $1000 before they qualify to “go over the edge.” No experience is necessary, just a sense of adventure and a commitment to help Frends go over the top to meet and exceed their fundraising goals.
To learn how you can participate or volunteer in Over the Edge with Friends of Children’s Hospital, visit www.OverTheEdgeWithFriends.com.
Did You Know?
When was Friends of Children’s Hospital founded? 1989
What is the purpose of the organization? Friends of Children’s Hospital is a nonprofit organization created to benefit the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Mississippi’s only children’s hospital.
How is Friends operated? Friends of Children’s Hospital is under the direction of a volunteer board of directors that works to promote fundraising events, reach new donors to help fund current and future projects benefitting and supporting Batson Children’s Hospital.
What are some major fundraising projects that benefit Friends?