Charles Kelley, Drake White and More Inspired By St. Jude Country Cares Weekend
In 1989, Alabama lead singer Randy Owen began the Country Cares for St. Jude Kids program in order to mobilize country radio stations all over the United States to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. During the 27th annual Country Cares weekend (Jan. 14-17), country stars such as Charles Kelley, Justin Moore, Old Dominion, Drake White and more, along with radio personalities and sales staff, visited St. Jude to visit with patients and learn more about the hospital's incredible work.
Located in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude offers free, cutting-edge treatments to children battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses -- at absolutely no cost to the patients' families. The hospital covers housing, food and other resources, so that families are only focused on getting their child well.
"The thing I like the best about St. Jude is the fact that the parents don’t have to pay," Charles Kelley tells The Boot and other reporters at St. Jude. "To go through this, and then to have the financial burden and worry about, ‘Oh gosh, is my insurance going to cover this or is it not?’ -- that, to me, is the greatest thing about this place, because they’re already going through a horrific kind of experience, and to at least take the financial burden out of it, that’s pretty strong."
It’s one of the most positive, uplifting places on the planet.
Justin Moore, who has two daughters of his own, says that visiting St. Jude is always a reminder of how fortunate he is, and a reminder of the importance of giving back.
"It’s unreal to think about," Moore says. "You always draw comparisons to your own personal life, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s positive or negative, or whether you’re in a place like this -- it doesn’t matter. So it definitely changes the way you look at things; it becomes a little more personal to you. I think you’re a little more genuine in the time you spend with some of the patients and the families.
"You learn something new every time," Moore adds. "The first time I came, my oldest daughter was sick with a cold or something, and I [thought], 'I don’t want to leave her with a cold, plus it’s gonna be sad. I’m gonna be bawling and squawling.' It could not be more opposite of that here. It’s one of the most positive, uplifting places on the planet. We’ve done it three or four times, and I hope to do it a lot more."
Hope brings happiness.
For Old Dominion's Trevor Rosen, supporting St. Jude is important to his entire family.
"My wife actually had cancer when she was 17, and they said she wasn’t going to make it, but she pulled out of it," Rosen shares. "She had hope, and this is just a place that gives a lot of kids a place to have hope. What they do for families who can’t afford it and otherwise have nowhere else to turn, they give these people somewhere to come when they have nowhere. It’s absolutely amazing. I’ve heard about it, but actually coming here and seeing it in person gives you an entirely different perspective."
Clare Bowen, who plays Scarlett O'Connor on the hit TV show Nashville, battled cancer herself as a 4-year-old living in Australia. Although she wasn't able to be taken care of at St. Jude, her own experience with childhood cancer makes her acutely aware of the need for all that St. Jude offers.
"There was no hope for me, and I’m still here," Bowen says. "They’re happy. Hope brings happiness."
Danny Thomas founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in 1962, under the premise that "no child should die in the dawn of life." It costs approximately $2 million dollars per day to operate St. Jude, with various fundraising endeavors helping to raise all that money. Country artists and their fans are among the hospital's biggest supporters: To date, Country Cares has raised more than $600 million -- a number that's staggering even to the hospital's president and CEO, Rick Shadyac.
"I don’t think there’s an industry that’s had a larger impact on a charitable cause," Shadyac says. "It means the world to us that a community would unite behind a single cause. And it shows you the power that people have when they join together to try and tackle the problem …
I don’t think there’s an industry that’s had a larger impact on a charitable cause ... You really can’t quantify the impact that the country music industry has had on the battle against pediatric cancer.
"You really can’t quantify the impact that the country music industry has had on the battle against pediatric cancer," Shadyac adds. "Those are the dollars, but we could never pay for the awareness."
Drake White visited St. Jude for the first time this weekend, but he insists that it won't be his last. After walking the halls and learning about the cutting-edge research that St. Jude performs in the hopes of finding cures for cancer and other diseases, as well as the care that St. Jude provides for a patient's entire family, the singer wants to encourage his fans to join him in supporting the organization.
"If I had to tell my fans one thing about supporting St. Jude -- St. Jude is an organization where your money is going directly to it," White says. "It’s an organization where they work together, and the money goes directly to the cause. They would rather a million people give $1 than one person give $1 million, because it’s about the wide range of people. Everybody needs to be involved, because the more people that feel like they’re giving in this great organization, the greater it becomes, and the more meaningful it becomes. It’s a wonderful thing to give to."
Know that you’re not giving to just some random cause. You’re giving and helping save kids' lives.
Adds Kelley, "Once you see it, I think it makes it even more powerful. There’s so many charities in the world, and it’s hard to sometimes sift through them all ... but to me, I just think there’s no better place to put your money than helping kids in need and what these parents are going through. There’s such a huge need. When you talk about over $2 million a day just to keep the lights on in this place, there’s such a giant need for it.
"Know that you’re not giving to just some random cause," Kelley says. "You’re giving and helping save kids' lives, so it’s great."
To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Country Cares for St. Jude, or to make a donation, visit the St. Jude website.
Country Stars Who Stand Up to Cancer