What's made the annual event so successful, said Chuck Martin, is the overwhelming generosity shown by not only the residents of Sikeston but also from communities throughout Southeast Missouri.
The Center is again relying on that kindness at this year's event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. March 23 and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 24 at the Sikeston High School Field House. "Our Center is now serving 339 children, more than double the number of children we were seeing in 1999," said Martin, executive director. "Because of this rapid growth, our need for strong community backing has never been greater. But, I've found that when you let our community know your need they do everything within their power to meet it. I have yet to be disappointed and am quite confident that as always the caring people of our community will more than rise to the occasion."
This year's telethon is packed with entertainment by more than 22 performers and bands from Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee. Eight of the entertainers are newcomers to the event. Those tuning in or watching the telethon live will have the option of listening to bluegrass, country, rock, gospel, jazz or instrumental music.
Saturday's agenda includes a sports card and collectibles show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a silent auction from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The sports card and collectible show will continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. That same day the silent celebrity auction will close at 1 p.m. Several collectibles auctioned off will include items from Muhammad Ali, Adam Timmerman of the St. Louis Rams, Rusty Wallace, Sawyer Brown, Ray Stevens, Charlie Daniels, Clay Walker, Joe Diffey and vacation getaway packages to Six Flags and Branson among other items.
Admission to these events is free.
Also on Sunday the James Bayou Cookers will host a fish fry from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The $7 all-you-can-eat meal will include fish, hushpuppies, French fries, cole slaw and a drink. Carry-outs will be available. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling the Kenny Rogers Children's Center at 472-0397 or will be available at the door.
The James Bayou Cookers will donate all the money raised to the Center.
Martin described the growth the Center has seen as remarkable, noting that today there are 22 staff members serving children from 10 different counties.
"All of our services are provided at no direct cost to the families we serve," he said. "Families have come and continue to come to the Center for help and for hope, the need never stops. We've even had two families who've moved here from Tennessee and Nevada just so their children can receive quality services at the Center.
"Over the years our Center has literally helped thousands of children with special needs attend public school, function more independently and gain the confidence they need to lead more active and productive lives. When you have a child that has special needs you want to know that that child is going to be able to attend a facility that has an outstanding pediatric staff committed to making a difference in young lives."
And right now Martin said the Center needs to catch up with the growth it's experiencing. With more children and families seeking assistance, there is a greater need for increased public support, he stressed.
"Come to this year's telethon and see who we are and what we're all about," said Martin. "One of the lines on all our stationary, business cards, etc. is 'making a difference in the lives of children with special needs.' That is not a tagline, it is our vision. If people reading this article could see firsthand the difference that their help makes, they would truly be touched."
Martin cited as an example, a child whose family was told that she would never walk takes her first step. "I promise you after seeing that child's face and the tears of joy streaming down her mother's face, you'll never look at your participation in the telethon in quite the same way."
The telethon brings out the best in everyone, he said. "It's all about caring. It's all about sharing. It's all about giving to make a difference in the lives of some very special children. We're successful because, and only because, caring people are willing to help."
Pledges can be made during the telethon by calling 471-9900 or 877-472-0397.