The first summer conference I attended was in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. They say your first experience in PII is the best, but I think it’s all so new that your emotions get the best of you. That particular year, I witnessed a mock wedding for a couple who had met several years earlier, at another conference, and were, at that time, planning to be married. There was an elaborate slide and music presentation by two brothers from Kansas, featuring songs and photos from years past, and more new friends from more places than I’d ever imagined. That year, and the following year in Louisville, Kentucky, we supported the Muscular Dystrophy Association. One thing I found very interesting about this group was that the charities chosen by the hosting members and cities were as diverse as the membership itself. Each year, those hosting the conference review and choose the local or national organization who will receive the proceeds from the public performance.
In 1990, our conference was held in Allentown, Pennsylvania where we raised money for Spina Bifida research. We make an effort, at each gathering, to learn as much as we can about our charities, where the money will go, and possibly spend some time working with them in the community. In Allentown we had a chance to meet some children with Spina Bifida, and speak to their families about the disease and how it affects them. Also on the medical front, we spent a week in the summer of 1991 in St. Louis, Missouri, and supported the Cardinal Glen Children’s Hospital. On that trip, we were able to visit the hospital and tour the facilities, after which we did a smaller scaled down performance for the patients.
One of the more personal charities we have sponsored is a place in Allentown, Pennsylvania, called Jenn’s House. Jenn’s house is a hospitality house for a local hospital that was set up in memory of the founder’s daughter. It is a place for families to stay when their children are being hospitalized. Through our 2 outings with them in 1995 and again in 1999, we’ve developed a personal relationship with the founders, and keep up with their activities.
Not all of our conferences have been related to medicine. In 1987, we worked with the Hutchinson Petting Zoo in Hutchinson, Kansas. That year we did an outdoor performance at the Zoo, on one of the hottest days of the year. Luckily, the Zoo had a beautiful pond in the center of the grounds. Needless to say, the entire cast of musicians, dancers, and techies ended up barefoot in the water after the show!
Over the years, we’ve donated funds to many children’s organizations. On three separate occasions, in three different cities, we raised funds for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Three chapters of their organization in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Kent, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan, benefited from our week there, and several of our members were inspired to look into that group in their own cities, and volunteer their time.
We’ve worked with Child Find, an organization in St Louis who tries to locate missing children, Huron Services for Youth, a community organization in Michigan, and Channel 3 Country Camp, in Hartford, Connecticut. While in Connecticut, we had an opportunity to put on a free outdoor concert in the center of downtown Hartford, presented by Mayor Mike. In 1988, we worked with the American Field Service, to help with their work to bring the world closer through cultural exchange. In 1997, we spent a week in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin raising money for the American Red Cross, a group to which our local members volunteer their time. During our annual charity presentation, the representative from the Red Cross actually took our members through disaster relief training, and although there wasn’t sufficient time to become certified, we all benefited quite a bit from the training.
In both 1989 and 1992, we traveled to Kent, Ohio, and supported Safer Futures, an organization which assists battered women and their children. Our presentation with them sent us away with some shocking statistics and a much deeper respect for the kind of work that they do.
In 1993, in Richmond, Virginia, we worked with a local organization called the Peter Paul Development Center. Through a presentation from it’s director we learned that the center, located in a high risk area of the city, works hard to keep kids off the streets, in school, and off of drugs. Work with Peter Paul has inspired us to continue a relationship with them. One of our yearly projects with the center is to adopt and support a local family at Christmas time.
Certainly, for us, the most profound year was in 1997, when we chose to forgo our existing plans, upon getting the news that one of our long-standing members, who had been battling cancer for a year, was in need of a stem cell transplant. In order to enter the program at the Medical College of Virginia, he would first have to raise $18,000. Almost immediately, we set up Richmond for Rich, and set to work on what seemed to be an insurmountable task. Between the proceeds from the performance, and soliciting donations, and the efforts of Rich’s family and friends in Michigan, we raised in excess of $20,000. It’s amazing what you can do when you know you have to!
Each year for us is a new adventure for People International, and a new chance to learn more and give more to our community and our world. What an incredible opportunity we’ve been given to be a part of so many wonderful changes in our world!