Channel 7’s Jon Summers talks to residents from the Elderwood Senior Homes about their fund raising efforts for the Telethon. The Senior community is very generous in helping the kids of Western New York

By Joe DeGweck


Throughout our lives we have all been placed in a position of responsibility and charged with the obligation of having to make decisions that ultimately might change not only our lives, but also the lives of others for whom we care. Some of those choices may have been as unpretentious as deciding which vegetable to serve with dinner or selecting the appropriate card for someone’s birthday or anniversary. Others may have been as imperatively significant as having to select which college your child would attend or what medical treatment you or your spouse might choose in order to preserve the quality of life you have become so accustomed to. Whatever the case and no matter which decision you make, I have found that the most important factor is that you are able to live with your resolve.

This brings us to the important and vital topic of this month’s “After 50” feature article. Once again we are proud and honored to be able to exemplify the embodiment of the assiduous and persistent effort of our many neighbors who work to bring a much higher quality of life to all who live within the community of Western New York. The work of those who entertain us through the presentation of “The Variety Kids Telethon” and those who sponsor and volunteer in making it the unprecedented success it has always been for our children.

On Sunday, February 22, 2009, WKBW will once again, for its 46th year, televise “The 47th Annual Variety Kids Telethon” from 7 A.M. – 7 P.M. This presentation is a culmination of the effort put forth by so many loving and caring volunteers over the past year. It is the result of endless hours of planning between individuals and agencies throughout the country. It is the pinnacle of hope for so many of our children who continue to endure physical challenges. It is a time for all of us to “Share Your Care” with one another.

In the year 1928, an infant child was left abandoned inside a theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by a despairing mother unable to care for her child. From this single event emerged eleven grandfathers who freely chose to “adopt” and raise this baby. This was the beginning of an organization that evolved into the “Largest Children’s Charity in the World.” This was the start of “Variety,” which today has 50 Tents (chapters) throughout the free world. The Western New York Chapter, Tent 7, was first chartered May 12, 1934. It raised funding to provide iron lungs for polio victims as well as wheelchairs and braces for other children in need. Incubators were purchased to aid in the survival of premature infants.

In 1962, thirty-four years after its inception, Variety Tent 7 was approached by Dr. Robert Warner. Dr. Warner had a vision and a desire to create a health center that could provide hope and existence for children born with debilitating deficiency. Tent 7 championed this dream and fashioned the first ever Variety Club Telethon, raising $80,000 in order that the Children’s Rehabilitation Center of Children’s Hospital might become a reality.

The needs of the children of our community continued to grow. In the 1980’s the Variety expanded its commitment to other children’s charities; those aiding the blind, the deaf and other youths who are innocent victims of life-threatening yet treatable diseases and disorders. Last year the 2008 Variety Kids Telethon raised over $1.3 million. This money will be used right here in Western New York for the medical care and treatment of our children, our neighbors’ children or any child in need.

Sunday, February 22, 2009 is a celebration of “thank you” to all who stand firmly committed to helping others just because there is a need. It is the “Grand Finale” of another year, to recognize all of those who “stayed the course” and bestowed upon us the blessings of hope for our good neighbors, friends and the Western New York family community. It is the acknowledgement of those who “share your care.”

The dollar candy bars sold by the kids down the street who are trying to help a friend or a family member or just another child that they might not even know. The Kid’s Day sale sponsored by the Buffalo News and distributed by your community social center volunteers. The contributions made by Labor Unions, by Volunteer Fire Companies, by Corporate Sponsors. The car raffle tickets and other fund- raisers sponsored by local Boy and Girl Scout Troops and the change jars that are in offices and at stores throughout Western New York. That is why Steve Podosek emphasizes that “every single penny matters, to our kids and to our efforts.”

There are far too many people, agencies and corporations that contribute to the success of the Telethon to mention within this article. But what we must recognize is their purpose. What fuels their passion? Why are they driven with such fervor? Who nurtures their compassion and kindness?

Perhaps it may be best summed up in the smile of Malena Mercurio; or possibly by the reflective hope envisioned within her eyes; or the stature of character and strength that engulfs her spirit. For Malena is the Variety Kids Celebrity Child this year. She exemplifies hope to thousands of children throughout our community who are challenged daily in order to live the life of any other child.

The hope to play in their backyard with their friends. The hope to go to school. The hope to play sports or dance or frolic freely and imaginatively as a fantasy hero. These are things all children should experience and because of the past efforts of the Variety Kids Telethon, Malena has that opportunity. She is a five-year-old kindergarten student at Parkdale Elementary School in East Aurora.

Malena loves to tell stories. She loves to play with her Pretty Little Pony Collection. She loves to sing, to dance, and to play veterinarian. Today she is full of life and enthusiastic about all she does. But that was not always the case.

At age three, Malena was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Her first stay at Women and Children’s Hospital, which lasted a little over a week, determined that Malena was in remission but it also fashioned a sense of confidence for Malena’s parents, knowing “Malena was in good hands.” Chemotherapy began immediately and Malena remained in remission. Soon after, though, Malena was diagnosed with spinal meningitis.

Continued dedication and coordination by the staff and departments of Women and Children’s Hospital resulted in the remediation of the meningitis infection. For two years Malena and her family continued to fight her Leukemia. Daily doses of oral chemotherapy. Four-week schedules of chemotherapy dispensed in her Mediport and then in her spine every 12 weeks. During this time friendships were formed and previous strangers from all over evolved into lasting and caring supporters.

Malena’s last day of chemotherapy was November 9, 2008 and she is cancer-free. Monthly checkups must continue now for at least five years, but the friendships that their family has been blessed with will last a lifetime. This was all made possible through the efforts and tenacity of the people of Western New York who have supported The Variety Kids Telethons of the past.

Let us remember the events leading up to this celebration on Sunday, February 22, 2009. There are so many. The spaghetti dinner, Sunday January 25, 2009, at The American Legion Post 735 in West Seneca. The Dance Back in Time, Saturday February 14, 2009 at The Hearthstone Manor in Depew. Enjoy an ensemble of delightful and tasty treats at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens by attending “Lunch with Mr. Food” on Saturday, February 21, 2009.

Be entertained at “A Salute to the Kids” special concert presented by the national cast of the telethon in the beautiful Riviera Theatre on Saturday, February 14, 2009. They include: Brandon Barash, Terry Buchwald, Kelly Clinton, Mr. Food, Ilene Graff, Clint Holmes and The Rat Pack from Vegas. The list of events is endless when you consider all that will take place at the various satellite locations throughout the Western New York Community. For more information please visit the new website for the Variety Kids Telethon at

I would like to conclude by recognizing the difficult times so many Americans as well as Western New Yorkers are experiencing. Individuals, families, small businesses and large corporations have all been affected by the events leading up to our economic downturn. It is worldwide, but recognize that it is an opportunity for us to grow closer as a people. The challenges we face today can be used to strengthen our character and encourage our hopefulness toward a better tomorrow for our children. What greater purpose can we commit ourselves to? May God bless you all today and tomorrow as he has blessed you in the past and remember that as Americans we stand together united and free for all. God bless and keep you safe!

Variety’s special children and their families gather on the set for the end of the Telethon.
Direct From Vegas – The Rat Pack perform a song with the help of Variety’s Special Children.
The Entire national cast and Telethon Celebrity family perform the opening number to get the Telethon started.