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‘Have a Heart’ Radiothon gears up for 15th year

2/6/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Volunteers and spectators cheer for the final total raised, which was $663,865, for Akron Children’s Hospital during the 2013 radiothon.
98.1 WKDD personality Keith Kennedy interviews Akron Children’s Hospital President and CEO Bill Considine during the 2013 radiothon.
Photos courtesy of Akron Children’s Hospital
DOWNTOWN AKRON — A slew of volunteers and hospital employees are hard at work preparing to kick off this year’s “Have a Heart, Do Your Part” Radiothon for Akron Children’s Hospital.

The 15th annual fundraiser takes to the radio waves Feb. 13 at 5:30 a.m., when 98.1 WKDD will begin broadcasting live from the hospital’s atrium. The event runs the first day until 7 p.m. and continues Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Feb. 15 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Listeners will hear radio personalities Keith Kennedy, Tony McGinty and Meg White on air from the hospital, located at 1 Perkins Square, throughout the event.

People are also invited to come to the hospital, where activities will take place throughout the weekend, including children’s crafts, a photo booth, temporary tattoos and small giveaways, said Nicci Avalon, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals program manager at Akron Children’s.

Donations received during the event — made online, in person or over the phone — will go to the area of greatest need at the hospital, according to Akron Children’s officials. Much of what is raised will go to provide care for those who can’t afford it, said Avalon.

The radiothon is the hospital’s largest fundraiser, according to Avalon. Totals raised during the radiothon have gone up and down with the economy, coming in at a high of $1 million in 2008, she said. Last year, the event raised nearly $664,000, she said.

To date, the radiothon has raised more than $8.3 million for patients, according to Akron Children’s officials.

There is no overall fundraising goal set for the radiothon, said Avalon.

“Our mindset is when we go off the air Saturday night, we’ll have more money for the hospital than we did Thursday morning, when we started,” she said.

During the radiothon, 16 people will be on hand the entire time to answer phones and take pledges, while additional volunteers and hospital staff will accept walk-in donations.

Others will sell “Have a Heart, Do Your Part”-themed merchandise during the event, including T-shirts, waterbottles and other items, Avalon said. New this year, those items also will be made available to purchase online, she added.

During the programming, listeners will hear stories from past patients, including Ava Turner, who was diagnosed as a 4-year-old in November 2011 with an aggressive blood and bone marrow cancer. Today, the 6-year-old is in remission after following an intense course of treatment at Akron Children’s, according to hospital officials.

Much of the programming during the radiothon isn’t planned and is meant to be flexible, said Avalon.

“Sometimes people just walk in and want to tell their stories on air,” she said.

Also, a unique part of the fundraiser begins well before the radiothon takes over the radio station for its yearly run, as the Change Bandits campaign — a grassroots fundraising effort for individuals, companies, schools and churches to “hold up” others for spare change — comes to an end for the year.

The radiothon program, including the Change Bandit part of it, is based on a model from the Children’s Miracle Network, said Avalon. For whatever reason, the Change Bandits program at Akron Children’s is the most successful one in the entire country, she added. In 15 years, nearly 6,000 Change Bandits have donated more than $2.2 million during the radiothon, according to hospital officials.

Many bandits will hand over their booty at the annual Bandit Bash, which takes place the night before the radiothon begins, at the Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls, and others will bring their loot to the hospital during the live broadcasting and present it on air, said Avalon.

While it’s too late to be sent a kit to join the bandits this year, people can sign up anytime at www.akronchildrens.org/changebandit or by calling 330-543-8340.

Some of the bandits are former patients — Turner is one — and their stories are featured on the hospital’s blog, inside.akronchildrens.org. Bandits also are offered their own online fundraising pages, said Avalon.

Another way to support the hospital’s radiothon fundraising efforts is by patronizing local hair salons and restaurants as they donate a percentage of a specified day’s sales. While several of those fundraising days have passed, people can still contribute at the following local businesses, on the dates listed: today, Feb. 6, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 753 Howe Road in Cuyahoga Falls; Feb. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Leia’ Love Hair and Nail Salon, 3094 W. Market St. in Fairlawn; and Feb. 13, from 1 to 6 p.m., AFX (A Fine Salon Experience), 3250 W. Market St. in Fairlawn.

Donations are always accepted online through Akron Children’s website at www.akronchildrens.org/cms/radiothon or by calling 330-543-8340. During radiothon hours, people can also make pledges by calling 330-543-0981 or 866-543-0981.

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