Country Stars Say St. Jude Inspires Hope, Passion, Gratitude
Country music fans know that the genre's stars have big hearts, but recently, several artists showed off their generous spirits by making a trip to Memphis, Tenn., for the annual Country Cares for St. Jude Kids weekend, held at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The 2017 event, which took place in mid-January, drew more than a dozen artists -- Cole Swindell, Maddie & Tae, Brett Young and Love and Theft, among others -- to St. Jude to support the cause.
"I’ve had the chance to meet families with children that are sick, and it’s heartbreaking, but being at a place like this, to see how positive it is, I don’t even know how to explain it," Swindell tells The Boot. "You have to be here to have that experience; you can’t really tell somebody about it, I don’t think ...
"I know how fortunate I am, and my family are, to be healthy," Swindell continues, "and the fact that I can spend some time and try to put a smile on a kid’s face, just to see how dedicated everybody is here to curing childhood cancer, it’s so inspiring."
I kind of feel like I got to visit a lot of kids while they were at the playground. That’s hard to do in a cancer treatment center, but St. Jude has done just that.
Adds Trent Harmon, "I think when you hear the word ‘treatment’ and ‘survival rate,’ you would think that this would be more of a morbid place. And, I guess, for all intents and purposes, a lot of hospitals are, but this isn't one of them. This is almost an amusement park; I kind of feel like I got to visit a lot of kids while they were at the playground. That’s hard to do in a cancer treatment center, but St. Jude has done just that."
The members of Runaway June have been supporters of St. Jude for a long time, but getting to see the hospital firsthand left a lasting impact on the trio.
"When our team told us that we were finally going to be able to visit the hospital, we were really excited, because we’ve done fundraisers and guitar pulls throughout the year for St. Jude," says Runaway June member Naomi Cooke. "It doesn’t really feel like a hospital; I don’t feel any anxiety here, from the staff or the children. I think that’s really important in the healing process -- just feeling at home and calmed and being able to focus on yourself and getting healed. It was a lot different, in so many good ways."
Brett Young is happy to take time out of his schedule to visit the children being treated at St. Jude as often as possible.
"These trips to St. Jude are probably my favorite things that we do all year, just because, selfishly, it’s an opportunity to do something that gives back. And, not so selfishly, it’s an opportunity to do something that gives back," Young says. "My favorite part is the perspective that you get from these kids: They’re dealing with the most difficult illnesses, probably the most difficult thing they’ll ever deal with in their lives, and they’re probably the happiest people you’ve ever seen on the planet.
"You go home thinking that the things you think are hard or difficult really aren’t so much," Young continues. "So, as much as us being here is able to lend some sort of hand, we really, I think, leave here having taken more from the kids that they got from us. It’s a really special relationship country music has with St. Jude."
They’re dealing with the most difficult illnesses...and they’re probably the happiest people you’ve ever seen on the planet. You go home thinking that the things you think are hard or difficult really aren’t so much.
Olivia Lane says that visits to St. Jude remind her what's really important in life -- and what isn't.
"When you come here, and you see what these kids are going through, it’s like, what I was complaining about this morning doesn’t matter," she notes. "It just doesn’t matter. Because there’s so many other things happening here, so many incredible things happening here … The passion that these people have is incredible. I need to have that same kind of passion, I need to bring that same thing, to what I’m doing, and hopefully inspire people that way, because they’re inspiring people every day."
Tyler Rich, who visited St. Jude for the first time in 2017, says that the experience was not at all what he was expecting.
"I think my first notion of coming here was that it was going to be the saddest day ever," he admits. "It was amazing; I had such a good time. Everything about this place is extremely inspirational ... I didn’t realize when I walked in that the walls would be so colorful and that kids were going to be running around laughing with their parents. It was a very touching place, and I’m extremely happy I came."
Love and Theft's Eric Gunderson says the importance that St. Jude places on taking care of patients' families -- including providing transportation, food and lodging for the parents -- is what stands out the most to him.
"There’s hope here, and that’s really cool, because that’s all that you have," Gunderson says. "You have to rely on that, I think, to keep on going on. The parents all seem very hopeful, and their energy is great, and I think that it probably starts from the bottom up, and that’s got to be huge."
There’s hope here, and that’s really cool, because that’s all that you have. You have to rely on that, I think, to keep on going on.
For St. Jude CEO Rick Shadyac, support from the country music community -- both artists and fans -- is immeasurable.
"The country music industry has been such great ambassadors and advocates for the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital," Shadyac says. "What it does is, it brings our mission to life, locally; it creates that local presence so that people all around the United States and increasingly in the world, there’s this tremendous resource known as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital."
Country Cares, created by Alabama‘s Randy Owen in 1989, has raised more than $700 million dollars to date, to help St. Jude Children's Research Hospital offer free medical treatment to children battling cancer and other diseases of the blood. To donate to St. Jude, or to find out more information about their mission, visit StJude.org.