(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Twenty-eight years ago, AT&T Pioneers volunteered for the first Kenny Rogers Children's Center telethon. Over the years, members continued to donate time to help it run smoothly and efficiently.
"We saw what was going on and how it was helping the children," said Nelda Hodge, a longtime volunteer who continues to help each year.
And this year, the organization gave more to the Center, in helping it secure $5,000 in grant funds from the AT&T Foundation to further therapists' education. A check was presented Thursday to the Center, which helps children with special needs and developmental delays.
The funds will help those at the Center be even better at what they do.
"Next summer we are planning to take a course on neurological developmental therapy," said Michelle Fayette, executive director. The eight-week intensive education program is specifically for pediatric therapists, she said.
"It's the gold standard for therapists," noted Fayette. "Again, we remain on the cutting edge of treatment and equipment."
Fayette said the Center plans to send 10 people to the course, which will require shutting down the Center throughout its duration.
AT&T Pioneers are current and former telecom industry employes and their families who volunteer to address community needs. And they have definitely done that when it comes to the KRCC.
"If it had not been for the Pioneers in the beginning, I don't know if we could have pulled (the telethon) off," said Fayette. "Because you have to have so many people to man a telethon, they were basically our ground force. And they still are, to an extent."
Sue Brashears, office manager at the Center for 30 years, agreed. She said the Pioneers have filled many roles, including installing phones, handling concessions, manning the phones and recruiting volunteers.
"Wherever they were needed, they were there. Some of them get there first thing in the morning and are one of the last ones to leave" she said. "They were just tremendous help throughout."
Fayette added: "And none of them have ever received a dime for all the hours they've put in, the funds they've brought in and the contacts they have made."
Jeannie Pickard of Campbell, first vice president of the Missouri Chapter 11 of TelecomPioneers, was instrumental in the grant application and award.
"The AT&T Foundation grant is offered to Pioneers nationwide," said Pickard. "Each chapter decides who they want to nominate."
The KRCC was selected because of the number of volunteers to the Center and the longevity of their service.
"The grants are very competitive," said Marsha Huskell, regional developer for AT&T. She commended the Pioneers for conveying what the KRCC does and how the funds were needed.
"Over the years, we've had 200 to 300 people that have volunteered through this region," said Pickard. Seven Pioneers signed up to work the 22 hours of the 2008 telethon, and in the year prior to the grant application, more than 300 community service hours were donated by them to support the KRCC, according to Pickard.
Four of those volunteers, who still help out, were on hand for the check presentation. Sarah Buchanan, Hodge, Gary Howard and Betty Cole were in attendance, while Tony Barborek, another longtime volunteer, was unable to come.
Brashears said that, although some are no longer able to help with the telethon, friends or family members they've recruited now fill those positions.
For instance, Buchanan, who has volunteered every year, helped with the VIP panels and now writes checks during the telethon. Her granddaughter, Rebecca Patterson, runs the checks.
The duo knows firsthand how helpful the Center is, as Patterson took speech lessons there when she was younger.
"We're really fortunate to have a place like this here," said Buchanan.
She and Hodge encouraged younger Pioneers -- and community members -- to get involved.
Other than behind-the-scenes work, people can always volunteer to work the phones and make calls soliciting money.
"They may only get $5, but that's $5 the center didn't have," said Hodge.
"If they would just come and see what the Center does they would, I think, want to get involved," said Buchanan.
"They need to come and see the CP Center and the children," added Hodge. "(The children) need their help."