September 13, 2012

It helps to have Friends in fight against prematurity

Carolyn Thombs, president of Friends of Children’s Hospital, cuts the ribbon to unveil a recognition wall during an event last week celebrating the organization’s 40th anniversary. (photo by Steve Green)

The Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt will commit $1 million to combat prematurity during the group’s 40th anniversary celebration Thursday evening.

Since 1972, the volunteer organization has supported Children’s Hospital through fundraising, community awareness and service to patients and families.

In a jovial atmosphere inside Children’s Hospital’s Theater, Friends members were honored for four decades of unwavering service to families and patients, community awareness and fundraising support. About 200 people attended the event.

Vanderbilt leadership and Friends members unveiled a recognition wall, located in a hallway off the Children’s Hospital second floor lobby, chronicling the group’s history and ongoing dedication. In addition, Metro Council member Burkley Allen presented an official government proclamation commemorating the anniversary and recognizing the work of Friends.

The group’s gift benefits the Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Prematurity Fund, with the goal of impacting the care of and cures for prematurity.

“The partnership between Friends and Children’s Hospital is strong and growing stronger with the creation of the Friends Prematurity Endowment Fund,” said Carolyn Thombs, the Friends president.  “Friends is committed to growing this fund to $1 million before the end of this year.  We saw a place in the hospital where the dollars we have raised could make a real difference in the groundbreaking research going on within our hospital.  It’s a win-win for this partnership.”

Tennessee currently ranks 41st in the nation in premature birth rates. Each year, more than 11,500 infants in the state are born too soon.

Friends’ efforts and contributions to the hospital are numerous and varied, including support for a pediatric ambulance, the Music Therapy Program, a quiet room in the hospital’s recently opened 33-bed expansion and the hospital’s bereavement program.

“This amazing group of people has had a lasting impact on children of the region and their health care.  The Friends have given countless hours of volunteer time.  As one small example, just in the year 2011 they served more than 11,000 meals to patients and their families,” said John W. Brock III, M.D., surgeon-in-chief and director of Pediatric Urology at Children’s Hospital.

“Now they have gone a step further and have established an endowment for prematurity with a goal of $1 million to treat our smallest patients.  This outstanding group of people is yet another reason why the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is such a special place.”

Friends has two hallmark annual fundraisers – The Holiday Project, selling holiday gift products, such as coffee and gift wrap, designed with child-created artwork; and Friends & Fashion, a spring luncheon affair showcasing current and former patients wearing the latest fashions. Combined, the efforts raise more than $200,000 annually.

“The Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is an embodiment of generous personal acts and longstanding philanthropy,” said Luke Gregory, chief executive officer for Children’s Hospital.

“Beyond their generous philanthropy, the organization has touched hundreds of thousands of lives over the past four decades.  Each and every day, our patients and their families, as well as the entire surrounding community, continue to be richly enhanced by the efforts of the Friends.”

Friends started with a small group of women, most of whom had firsthand experience at the hospital. At that time, a freestanding children’s hospital did not exist at Vanderbilt, and pediatric care was delivered on three dedicated floors within the adult hospital.

The women wanted to give parents amenities and support that eased their experience and promoted recovery for children.

“We quickly grew in membership from seven to 700, and realized that we were on our way to becoming a real organization,” said Libby Werthan, who served as the first president of Friends.

“But never in our wildest dreams did we envision the scope and impact that the Friends organization has achieved today. To see this little embryo of an idea become a full-fledged, healthy and vital adult – well, it is every founder’s dream come true.”

Children’s Hospital and Friends will only continue to grow this vibrant partnership for years to come, said Meg Rush, M.D., acting chair of Pediatrics and chief of staff.

“The longstanding commitment of Friends to Children’s Hospital and our many programs is so meaningful.  We are so grateful for our community partners as they help us achieve our many missions,” Rush said. “The Friends organization has been a wonderful partner over many years.  From a small group of women with an idea to this fantastic and growing organization, this partnership enables our tradition of excellence and service to patients and families.  It is exciting to celebrate this 40th Anniversary milestone.”

Currently, more than 3,000 men and women, from 30 states, are members and volunteers of Friends.

The organization also runs the Friends Shop at the hospital, with proceeds from the retail boutique going to benefit patients and families. In addition, the group created a flower garden with benches and a fish pond to offer a quiet, outdoor place on the hospital campus for families and patients.

For more information on the Friends organization or to join, visit the group’s website at www.Childrenshospital.vanderbilt/friends.