Center Director Michelle Fayette estimated about 1,000 people will wander through the Sikeston Field House during the two-day event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
"This year we're expecting to see attendance increase due to the Telethon Idol contest, and then we go right into the concert with Shady Deal and a lot of people will stick around to hear them play," Fayette said.
Telethon organizers expanded the popular Telethon Idol singing competition after a successful first appearance during last year's telethon.
"Last year we knew there were things we could change and make different. We just judged the contestants last year, and we knew we wanted to tie in audience participation in the form of real votes just like they do in the real ('American Idol') show," Fayette said.
So this year audience members will vote in the form of money with donations for their favorite singer accepted until noon Sunday. Pledges may also be called in.
"The winner will be selected based 50 percent on performance and 50 percent on audience votes," Fayette said.
Twenty-five contestants who were selected during a competition March 17 will compete Saturday night. They were divided into two age groups: 17 and under and 18 and over.
"We have a good representation of people who live in our coverage area," Fayette said, adding contestants include those from Sikeston, New Madrid, Perryville, Marquand and Fairdealing.
Among other events this weekend include pictures with the Easter bunny, telethon pageants, silent auction and sports card and collectible show. Proceeds from the weekend events will benefit the Center.
"I think people are drawn to the children. That's why they come out to the telethon -- to help the kids. They are our future," said Jerry Pullen, chair of this year's telethon.
At any given time, the Center's 12 physical, speech and occupational therapists treat 300 children ages birth to 21 years and with different diagnoses, Fayette said.
"And even if you have the same diagnosis, such autism, there are different degrees of severity," Fayette said.
About 80 percent of the children who attend the Center receive 18 to 24 months of therapy because they've reached their goals in that time period, Fayette said.
"They perform better in school, make better citizens and live a better life," Fayette said. "... Without therapy, these are issues the children would really struggle with in adulthood."
Fayette said parents with special needs children often have to deal with extra doctor's appointments, special equipment and medicines and the extra expenses that accompany them.
"When there is a financial strain, a lot of times therapy may be one of the first things families do without," Fayette said.
Finding therapists to work in the rural setting is another big challenge for the Center, not only in recruiting them, but there's a nationwide shortage of therapists, Fayette said.
"A lot of times people don't think about the Center because they have healthy children. But what better reason to support the Center than the fact you're very thankful," Fayette said.
Both Fayette and Pullen pointed out many people assume the Center receives federal and state funding, but it receives no federal funding.
"Donations help run the Center," Pullen said. "And no child is turned down for services."
The Center's goal is to raise $300,000 during this year's telethon. Last year the telethon netted $264,000.
"And I think we're going to it," Pullen said about the goal. "I know we're going to do it."