When introducing a newly created agency to the good people of the greater Kansas City, you can take a page from the RJ Children’s Haven (RJCH) playbook! On May 9, RJCH’s Board members and volunteers welcomed more than 100 people into the Grand Street Café community meeting room, offering a warm breakfast and a warm-your-heart introduction to what will become the nation’s first safe, healthy transitional daytime “home away from home” for children who have compromised immune systems due to organ transplantation, cancer treatment or other medical conditions.
The crowd was invited to the breakfast by RJCH stakeholders – tireless volunteers who worked their contacts, LinkedIn friends and local foundation lists to fill the room. Bankers and bakers, work-at-home moms and CEOs of leading KC companies filled the tables with an RJCH’s Board member or advocate at each to answer questions or provide additional information. The seating assignments were strategically designed well in advance by RJCH’s insightful community leaders (think Royal Wedding or a socialite’s debut) with well thought-out placements.
RJCH used the some of the best tools of the meet-and-greet for the event:
- The program was short and kept to exactly one hour
- Scheduled early in the day, the event began at 7:30 a.m. to avoid other conflicts
- The venue offered easy and covered parking – on a rainy day, that’s priceless!
- Programming was absolutely riveting.
For a fundraising or “friend raising” event – and in my opinion these terms are never mutually exclusive – a combination of slide show, power point, taped messages and photos of children helped by RJCH on the big screen, breaks the monotony of speaker after speaker, even if the speakers are engaging. RJCH never let the attendees forget that the effort is for the benefit of seriously ill children. Each table was named after an immune-compromised child with his/her photo and name in the center of the table. From the moment of registration, after checking the guest list and presenting a name tag, volunteers informed attendees that they were sitting at “Elijah’s Table” or “Darius’ Table”. The imagery and gentle reminders of who will be served flowed smoothly throughout the morning.
With such a heavy topic, children battling a deadly disease or risk of infection that could end their young lives, RJCH masterfully injected hope and a promise to succeed. A pediatrician shared the proven benefits of RJCH’s mission: upon hospital discharge, a child’s engagement in typical daily activities is extremely limited. There is no day care, no pre-K or elementary school, no fun and active site for this special population. Educational services, home health care services, therapies and, critical to socialization, fun activities to improve socialization will be provided onsite. More easily fatigued than their healthy peers and with special dietary concerns and occasional side effects from medication, nap areas will be plentiful. These children can rest without stigma.
No one can explain the challenges of caring for an ill child like those who love them most. Parents from all walks of life told their stories, sometimes with their children by their sides, to explain the need. In too many cases, without a daytime site, a parent chooses to leave work to provide care and, surprisingly for some of us, complete the never-ending paperwork and phone calls between insurance companies, specialists and pharmacies. All spoke to the important option of an RJCH and all held the audience absolutely captive. When a three-year-old who had recently battled leukemia was handed a microphone, the entire audience melted as he looked up at the screen and gleefully shouted, “That’s me! There I am!”
Of course, a can’t-miss, surefire way to motivate check writing at the end of the event is a challenge gift. The compassionate, visibly moved CEO of Secure Air took the podium to explain why he and his company decided to donate the HVAC system with a critically needed negative air area by the front door and hospital-grade air filtration throughout. Speaking about the children in need and the company’s determination to help keep them safe, a $10,000 match was offered. With plenty of pens at each table, (dear event planner, never forget pens), half of my table completed the quick, easy-to-read pledge card and inserted contributions into the envelopes. An impressive $48,000 was raised that morning, at least two-thirds from first-time donors.
RJCH, a small agency with no paid staff to date, hosted a phenomenal breakfast that grey May morning. Speaking with some overbooked funders and jaded nonprofit professionals who have attended far, far too many events to sincerely look forward to fundraising, this event was different. RJCH’s breakfast was a true pleasure.
Byrne Pelofsky is proud to partner with RJ Children’s Haven to raise money for a new facility at 2924 Cherry in the Hospital Hill neighborhood. Learn more about RJ Children’s Haven by visiting https://www.rjchildrenshaven.org/.