My Experience as a Crusader
I was ten years old the first time my mother told me she would be working at the Crusade for Children for a whole weekend. It kind of made me wonder why she needed to spend a weekend with these other kids, instead of me. Mom made a pattern of this “annual weekend Crusading”, a few years in a row. Then when I was thirteen, Mom invited Dad and me to be volunteers too. I was excited, but not quite sure what it was.
When I arrived at my first Crusade, I quickly found that there was a lot to be excited about. There were firemen with fire trucks, clowns with balloons, television cameras and familiar faces of newscasters and famous bands and personalities; there were also children who had saved every penny they had come across for the last year or hosted lemonade stands and bake sales, all to raise funds for the Crusade for Children. Even these young children could see the importance of giving back to children in need. There were lots of other people around talking about their donations, with giant checks or fire boots full of money. It was thrilling to see how so many people come together to make this well-oiled “Crusade machine” work to help the community.
Each year, I began to look forward to returning for the weekend of Crusade because it was always a lot of fun. My job quickly became a popular one with the fire fighters. Each year I rode in the back of a pick-up truck, also known as the “refreshment truck”, serving drinks and food to the fire fighters. Some of the firefighters introduced me to their version of a “water fight”. Such as “accidentally” squirting their hoses or dunking me into an icy trough of water, which had been used as a cooler for drinks earlier that day. Others were showing me how fire trucks operate and their fire fighting gear, it was really interesting and so much fun.
I enjoyed meeting some of the entertainers like Peebo Bryson, Steve Wariner, and Lee Greenwood. To this day every time I hear the song, God Bless the USA, I still feel that same swell of pride in my chest and remember how awesome it was to get the chance to see Greenwood sing it in person. As a performer, he conveyed the importance of our freedom and how blessed we are to have the opportunity to live in a country that is so giving and charitable. But I still did not get the true meaning of the Crusade for Children.
This year I finally realized the reason we volunteer for the Crusade for Children. Sitting in the Bomhard Theatre at the Kentucky Centre for the Arts, I watched the Diane Moore dancers, as I have in the past. This year, they touched me in a way I had never experienced before. I have enjoyed dancing all of my life and I know the work, dedication, and effort it takes to be a dancer. I watched in awe as these children with disabilities moved so gracefully on the stage. It truly amazed me that even in wheelchairs, with walkers or crutches, these children performed flawlessly.
Watching Patrick Henry Hughes sing the Crusade Cannonball for the 6th or 8th time did not seem to be any different than before; but suddenly I had the realization that Patrick is also child of the Crusade. Even though I have know him mostly as the kid who evolved into a local personality, appearing on Extreme Home Makeover, Oprah, Ellen, and many news shows; it was an eye-opening experience for me to see the many benefits Patrick and many others had received from the Crusade for Children. Patrick was born without eyes and very limited use of his limbs; he was also musically gifted and began playing a piano before he was even two years old. I realized that Patrick was able to do many of the things he can do today because of the help that the Crusade had provided him and his family throughout the years.
Having finally had that realization, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having a healthy son who is absolutely perfect. Aside from a couple of short visits to the hospital, Ethan is healthy, happy, strong and intelligent. I am so thankful to be blessed with a son who has brought so much joy to my life. I am also humbled, knowing that each life is so precious and that no one is guaranteed to be perfect or healthy.
Because I finally began to pay attention to what was going on around me at the Crusade for Children this year, I also became more aware of its true purpose. Basically, it is to help any child in Kentuckiana who needs them. I actually looked on their website to see what they claim to do, and I found their mission statement. It said: “The WHAS Crusade for Children exists to change the lives of children with special needs in Kentucky and Indiana.” However, I was amazed to also find a statement that said: “Through the Crusade we’ve changed the lives of an estimated 3 million children in Kentucky and Indiana since 1954.”
I wasn’t around back then, obviously, but I remember my mother telling me once that she volunteered for the Crusade to give back what they did for her brother, my uncle, who was born with a deformity to his right leg. Doctors told my grandmother that he would probably never walk, but, the Crusade paid for braces for his leg, and eventually surgery to stretch tendons in his leg so it could develop properly. He later ran cross-country in high school and never had to wear braces again.
Another statement on the Crusade website said: “Right now we’re funding 1 in 3 children who need the Crusade.” Again, I am humbled to find that as hard as we work to help the Crusade, and as much money as they manage to collect each year, the Crusade still does not have enough to help all the children who need them. This year, the Crusade collected $5,289,841 for Kentuckiana’s special needs children. We have to work harder so we can help serve the other two-thirds in need. After all, the t-shirts many of the volunteers wore during Crusade weekend said “100% for the Kids”, and it truly does. An endowment fund pays the salaries of the few people who are actually employed by the Crusade for Children.
Being that Crusade 2009 was the year I had so many revelations, I see many Crusade weekends in my future, and in my son’s future. He’s already made the “tour of duty” with us several times and enjoyed every minute. My only hope is, that one day he too will experience his own revelation of how important the Crusade for Children is to him and to our community.
WHAS Crusade for Children Web site, June 22, 2009
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