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Thousands of volunteers keep the wheels turning

Mississippi’s health care nonprofits making a difference

Last month, even though the weather was cold and raw, more than 500 business and medical professionals turned up at the Country Club of Jackson for the American Heart Association’s annual fund raiser. Last year, Mississippians raised more than $750,000 — just for walking. More than 40,000 calendars were sold through Mississippi Candlelighters. And American Arthritis Foundation supporters will try to top last year’s take of $72,000 by Jammin’ for Joints on April 1. No foolin’.

“The people of Jackson are well known for their generosity in supporting fund-raising events, especially when they represent medical causes,” said a long-established Jackson resident who preferred to remain anonymous.

The American Heart Association’s Art for Heart surpassed its goal of $175,000 on Jan. 21, when call veteran Larry McCool, whose dad has suffered from heart disease, auctioned original paintings donated by Mississippi artists. A painting by Jackson resident Yvette Sturgis, honored artist of the evening, fetched $10,000.

“I can’t believe someone would pay so much for my work,” said Sturgis, blushing and covering her face with her hand. “I’m quite honored.”

Tina Bancroft, executive director of the Mississippi affiliate of the American Heart Association, said without the 50 dedicated volunteers who work on the fund-raising event all year, it would be impossible to coordinate such a complex event.

“About 33% of the proceeds go to research, about 24% is earmarked for education and training,” said Bancroft. “Other programs receive a percentage, too, of course, but those are the biggest pieces of the pie.”

Janis Quinn, spokesperson for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said area health care nonprofit organizations fund much-needed projects.

“The money raised by health care nonprofits contributes greatly to the research that can be done at UMC,” said Quinn.

Cecile Wardlaw, program director for the Mississippi chapter of the American Arthritis Foundation, said the organization’s annual fund raiser, Jammin’ for Joints, held every spring at the Country Club of Jackson, netted $72,000 last year. This year’s fund raiser will be held on April Fool’s Day, she said.

“We have a real enthusiastic group of volunteers that joined us last year and they tripled the profits,” said Wardlaw.

Last year, two new fund-raising events — participation in international marathons — netted another $40,000, she said.

“Our walking teams participated in full 26-mile marathons last year in Honolulu and Dublin,” she said. “This year, our teams will travel to San Francisco and Nottingham, England. Our volunteer trainer, Don Williams, works with team members for 12 weeks. By the time they go on a trip, they are usually good friends. We plan a five-day trip so it leaves time for fun other than just participating.”

Even though there are a few runners, the training is geared to walkers, she said.

“We’re happy to provide a way for people with arthritis to participate because running is pretty hard on your knees and other joints,” Wardlaw said.

Raised funds are funneled to the national level and a peer review group awards research grants, she said.

“A lot of money is used in Mississippi for program services for education and assisting indigent patients,” Wardlaw said.

The Mississippi Candlelighters, a parent’s support group for children with cancer, who have their own annual art auction that features Mississippi artists and is “still going just great,” according to executive committee member Brenda McIntyre of Jackson, have also found success in selling calendars that feature artists’ reproductions.

“On top of our annual fund raiser, Melanie Dowell took on the task of promoting and marketing calendar sales,” said McIntyre. “It has always been important, but we’ve never had anyone to spearhead it. Since Melanie took over, sales have more than quadrupled.”

After Dowell tallied the 5,000 calendars sold to MCI WorldCom and hundreds more sold to sororities and fraternities at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, with charter members, such as Brown’s Frame Shop and Lemuria Bookstore that have sold them in their stores from inception, sales spiked from approximately 6,000 calendars to more than 40,000 last year.

“ValuePage usually buys around 400 to give as Christmas gifts, Sam Lane at Deposit Guaranty usually picks up a couple of hundred, and there are several people around town who have been very good to us in our effort to raise money for the kids,” Dowell said. “We have some calendars left for the year 2000 and we would gladly give people a discount if they are interested in purchasing one by calling 969-7020.”

Carolyn Green, executive director of the Mississippi chapter of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, said the organization’s walkathons have been ongoing for at least 30 years. Around 1,500 of the 8,000 people that raised $758,806 in walkathons around the state represented the metro Jackson area.

“In the spring, we have around 25 walks,” she said. “In the fall, we have the rest.”

Hundreds of volunteers keep the wheels turning, from setting up routes and making sure they are safe to feeding people and manning “poop-out” vans for folks who tire before the end of the walkathon, she said.

“Every year, we send RFPs to hospitals, health departments and other organizations that have programs to reduce infant mortality, teen pregnancy or get women into early prenatal care that can request up to $25,000 per project,” she said. “A group of physicians, social workers and other medical professionals go through the RFPs and determine how we put our money back into the state of Mississippi. We also have ongoing educational programs in schools, clubs, organizations and physician’s offices.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

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