Stars Celebrate 25 Years of Country Cares for St. Jude

Kellie Pickler, Sara Evans, Scotty McCreery and more visit Memphis hospital.

Kellie Pickler with St. Jude patient Parker.

Here’s an amazing fact: Since its creation 25 years ago by Alabama leader Randy Owen, the Country Cares program has raised more than $500 million to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

That’s half of a billion dollars.

But there’s always a need for more funds while children are battling cancer, HIV and other catastrophic illnesses. St. Jude aims to have the most advanced treatment techniques and research while still ensuring patients and families are uplifted through their ordeal.

For the 25th annual Country Cares seminar, which started yesterday (Jan. 17) in Memphis, a whole array of stars, including Sara Evans, Kellie Pickler, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts and others, came out to spend time with the patients and tour the facilities. 

Scotty McCreery, a longtime St. Jude supporter, had made his first visit. “It’s been pretty incredible,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a hospital. You see smiles when you’re going in there. It’s positive energy, so it’s pretty cool.”

Memphis native Lucy Hale had visited the hospital many years ago, but had her first real tour this time and was struck by the happy attitudes everywhere. “The families and the patients and everybody that works there has such a positive attitude, and there’s such a sense of community,” she said. 

Those making return visits, like Cassadee Pope, had felt their emotions shift away from initial nervousness. “After going last year I realized it’s really uplifting and it’s positive and the kids are happy and they’re smiling,” she said. “So this year I’m more excited than anything, less nervous.”

The members of Eli Young Band have been visiting St. Jude for years, missing last year only because Mike Eli’s daughter was born. “We’ve always enjoyed coming,” said Mike “It’s one of those events we try to make sure we fit in as much as we can.”

“Definitely for two of us being fathers now, you walk in there with a whole new perspective,” added EYB’s Jon Jones. “You’re realizing, not as much what the kids go through, but what the parents go through. It’s your whole life being changed in a day. It’s nothing like any other hospital experience that there is out there.”

One of the newest developments on the sprawling St. Jude campus is the Tower II, which was begun in 2011 and is due for completion later in 2014. It will house the computational biology department, with its genome data analysis, as well as the Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center, the first in the world dedicated completely to treating children. Unlike radiation therapy, proton therapy provides effective focused treatment of cells with minimal risk of damage to surrounding tissue. It’s a hugely expensive project, but will undoubtedly save lives and provide other facilities around the globe with information about its discoveries.

“One reason I feel so strongly supportive of St. Jude is the fact that when you donate money here, it doesn’t just go to the kids here,” said Kellie Pickler, a return visitor. “All the research they use that money for, all of that information, they send that all over the world. That says a lot about the organization.”

Sara Evans, herself a mother, agreed. “It makes you go, ‘Thank you God for things like this.’ St. Jude is the epitome of acting as we should and giving and helping people in need.”

Ultimately, it is the kind of place where good intentions turn into real, life-saving action, and donations through radiothons or any of St. Jude’s many other initiatives have had a measurable impact over the last quarter century. “This is why we do it right here, success stories,” said Randy Owen, hugging a young patient. “This is my buddy.”

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