By TAMARA IKENBERG
“The telethon itself is that moment of nostalgia. It’s total old time TV, the kind of a thing that you don’t see anymore,” said telethon producer Larry Ledford. “It’s a little bit of everything. You name it, we probably do it. We have bands, we have magicians, we have singers, we have firefighters.”
This year’s line-up includes longtime hosts Terry Meiners and Melissa Swan; “Crusade kid” pianist Tim French; The Miracle Dancers from Diane Moor Dance Academy: young and grown-up Crusade kids in walkers and wheelchairs who have their own dance troupe; magician David Garrard; hip-hop artist Samajesty Starr; and many more acts devoted to putting on a magnificent, high-spirited show.
The telethon is “a big family reunion of sorts of people who have worked with crusade or been affected by it,” Ledford said. “It’s like coming home.” It’s the culmination of a year of fund-raising by firefighters, local businesses and charities. Last year, the Crusade raised more than $5 million.
Co-host Swan is excited to sample the whole smorgasbord of talent but most looks forward to seeing the Miracle Dancers – who made their telethon debut in 1992 – strut their stuff. Their seven-minute routine, choreographed to the song “Footprints in the Sand,” is scheduled for Saturday at 8:03 p.m.
“I can’t wait. It’s amazing what they do and how happy they are. Its really incredible and so heartwarming,” she said. “If they can fight through that and come out and be happy despite their disabilities then its not at all hard for me to stand up for a few hours or for others to dig a little deeper and give a little more.”
The troupe’s beginnings go back two decades. It all started when Diane Chambers, owner of Diane Moore Dance Academy in Jeffersontown got a call from the mother of a girl with spinal bifida. The mom had called several local dance studios trying to get someone to help her daughter realize her dream to be a dancer.
“Nobody really wanted the challenge or knew how to work with her as far as dance,” Chambers said. But Chambers was game, and the girl, who was on crutches, began lessons. Despite her limitations, the young dancer flourished. People started to hear about her accomplishments, and other special-needs kids joined her. Now there are 50 Miracle Dancers, divided into junior and senior groups.
“It’s a wide rang of all kinds of kids,” Chambers said. “We have a girl that’s blind, we have kids that are deaf, we have kids in wheelchairs…just a big family of everybody loving everybody,” Chambers said. “We try to build self esteem. No matter what they can do, we try to do things with them that make them feel like a star.”
The Miracles have been rehearsing their telethon routine since January
“We have three extra practices this week. Its crazy,” said senior dancer Ashley Reynolds, 25. Reynolds, who is blind, joined the troupe 8 years ago, “Crusade has to be one of my favorite performances of the year, because it means a lot to people. Crusade helped me when I was little.”
Ashley’s mother Mary Ann said her daughter, who attend a preschool for the blind, received a lot of crucial support from The Crusade.
The Crusade has been helping special needs children since it was established in 1954. Upwards of 138 million dollars has been distributed to agencies, schools, hospitals and more that deal with special needs children in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
For those committed to the Crusade, contributing is a hard habit to break.
“We were baptized into it real early,” said Jody Meiman, a battalion chief for the City of Louisville Fire Department. “My father was a member of the Lake Greenwood fire department for forty years and I was actually six months old the first time I rode on a fire truck during the crusade … I haven’t missed a year.”
He and his wife initiated their own three sons into the tradition as soon as possible.
“We put a car seat on the front of the firetruck, and seat-belted them in and they rode around with us,” Meiman said. It all brings back wonderful memories.
“Some of my favorite moments were when my brother and I used to collect with our dad,” he said. “That was probably the best part of it.”
Crusade President and CEO Dawn Lee is in awe of the commitment of community firefighters to the Crusade. This year, she’s particularly touched by the fact that the Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Department, which is located in tornado-stricken Henryville, Indiana, is still focused on doing everything they can despite the hardships they’ve endured.
Lee said The Monroe Township firefighters told her they didn’t want their totals to go down as a result of the disaster.
“We were just in tears, because we weren’t expecting them to collect at all,” she said.
The arrival of the telethon is also a chance for Lee to look back on all the growing experiences of the past year.
One of her favorite moments was when the “big burly” men of the Lyndon Fire Department came to tour a preschool for the visually impaired.
“The kids come out, and they’re learning about fire trucks by having to feel it. They’re learning about the hose and how the water comes out from the hydrant, and they’re feeling where the siren is and these guys just melted,” Lee said “And every one of those guys on that tour, I guarantee will be back at that facility volunteering in some form.”
Parents and children have also had a year of positive changes, courtesy of the Crusade.
Donna Lile, an Okolona resident, was unable to afford the $220 behavioral therapy for her son Brayden, who suffers from a pervasive developmental disorder.
“He has such trouble with changes in routine, and he wasn’t at risk enough to qualify for insurance,” she said. “It was affecting him being able to go out into the community and being socialized which was not helping his speech development.”
Last spring, the Liles received a grant for behavioral support from the Crusade. It worked wonders. Brayden, now four-and-a-half years old, was successfully potty trained, which the Liles were originally led to believe wouldn’t happen until he was six or seven.
His caseworker came to his school and home to help him. And once her work was done, “She gave us a lot of different tools to work with,” Lile said.
Donna Lile is grateful for the Crusade’s contributions. “What they do is so all encompassing; financial support, personal support…”
Wesley Hill, a 9-year-old boy with Leukodystrophy, has also been helped in many ways in the past year. He attended the The Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies, which is assisted by Crusade funds.
According to Wesley’s mother Renee Hill, her son has benefited from Crusade services since he was a toddler.
His parents were told he may never walk. But with help from the Crusade, his motor skills and muscles were developed through horseback riding. And now, he’s a proud member of the Bullit East Running Club.
He got the itch to become a runner one day when he went with his parents to pick up his sister Sydney, 13, from running practice.
“He started wanting to race her up and down the street, and then at practice he tried to race with her so the coach asked Wesley if he wanted to join the team,” Renee Hill said.
When Wesley goes running, Sydney is always at his side.
“I like to run super fast,” he said.
59th Annual WHAS Crusade for Children Telethon
When: 7 p.m., Saturday June 2 to 7 p.m., Saturday June 3 (radio coverage begins at 1 p.m.)
Where: Bomhard Theatre at The Kentucky Center,
501 West Main Street
Watch and listen: TV: WHAS 11
Radio: 84 AM WHAS
Donate: Visit www.whascrusade.org, call 502.582.7706, mail to 520 West Chestnut Street, 40202, or give at a fire department or civic group location
The Crusade Board of Directors
Lynn Ashton: Executive Director, Kentucky Derby Museum Louisville, Kentucky
Lorie Beavin: Executive Director, Norton Clinical Agency Choices, Louisville, Kentucky
Board Treasurer Helen Cohen: Director, CPA/ABV, CVA Blue & Co., LLC Louisville, Kentucky
Board Chair Fr. Joe Graffis: Pastor, St. Edward Catholic Church, Jeffersontown, Kentucky
Board Secretary & Legal Counsel Tom Hoy: Dinsmore & Shohl Louisville, Kentucky
Shawn Kaelin: Assistant Director of Creative Services WHAS-TV Louisville, Kentucky
Brennen Lawrence: Major Worthington Fire Department, Louisville, Kentucky
Dr. Tom Mobley: Pastor, Nelson Christian Church, Bardstown, Kentucky
Danny Newby: Salem/Washington Township Fire Department, Salem, Indiana
Board Vice Chair Dr. Maureen Norris: Retired Dean School of Education, Bellarmine University Louisville, Kentucky
Mark Pimentel: President & General Manager WHAS-TV Louisville, Kentucky
Ann Schnepf: Director of Special Populations Greater Clark County Schools Clarksville, Indiana
Terrence Spence: Human Resources Manager WHAS-TV Louisville, Kentucky
John Walling: The Koetter Group, Floyds Knobs, Indiana
Doug Wethington: Sales Manager Clear Channel Radio Louisville, Kentucky
Derwin Webb: Attorney, Louisville, Kentucky
Category: Cover Stories