Growing Excitement: Campaign for Children's of Mississippi grows toward $100 million goal
Published on Monday, February 15, 2021
By: Annie Oeth, email@example.com
Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Under the Rainbow, the semi-annual magazine for Children's of Mississippi.
Restaurant tips and major gifts, two figures to seven and eight figures, all add up in the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi.
When it comes to raising $100 million in philanthropy to help build a seven-story pediatric hospital expansion, each gift counts, leaders of the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi have said.
“It takes all of us working together to reach a goal this lofty,” said Sanderson Farms CEO and board chairman Joe Sanderson Jr., who leads the campaign with his wife, Kathy. “Mississippians are some of the most generous, giving people in the world, and they love their children. This place of healing is a cause that people from across the state could support, and everyone is doing what they can to help us meet our goal.”
When leaders at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Children’s of Mississippi began planning a children’s hospital expansion, they knew from the start that philanthropy would be a major part of taking the building from blueprints to fruition.
"From experience, we knew that a project of the size and scope of this expansion would need the strong support of philanthropists who share our dedication to improving the health of Mississippi’s children,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We knew that Joe and Kathy Sanderson were the leaders who could accomplish this.”
Launching a campaign
The Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi was launched by Joe Sanderson Jr. and his wife, Kathy, in April 2016.
Having seen the caring at Children’s first-hand when their granddaughter, Sophie Creath, was a patient at Batson Children’s Hospital as a young girl, the couple started the effort with a $10 million personal gift.
“After witnessing the competent, loving care Sophie received at Children’s of Mississippi, we realized the importance of this wonderful hospital,” said Kathy Sanderson.
Though they received the best of care for their granddaughter, the Sandersons knew growth and expansion were needed.
“We believe that the hospital is at maximum capacity and is lacking in several vital areas,” Joe Sanderson said at the campaign’s launch. “The hospital is beyond capacity in the neonatal intensive care unit and is badly in need of additional space. Children have to be transported to the main facility at UMMC because of a lack of equipment at Batson. Children sometimes need sedation when being transported. And further, there needs to be additional facilities for pediatric surgeries, particularly cardiac surgery.”
If the $10 million was a seed donation, it was soon bearing fruit in the campaign, which quickly began to grow. By August, Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit that raises funds for the children’s hospital, announced a $20 million commitment to the drive.
“The expansion has been quite a journey for me, dating back to June 2011 when I was first contacted about fundraising support from Friends of Children’s Hospital for a future major expansion project,” said Sara Ray, past board chair of Friends. “I certainly didn’t dream at the time this expansion would evolve over the following years to become the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi! Having been aware of the need for the expansion and the evolution of the project over a period of several years prepared me as chairman to call upon the Board of Directors of Friends at the onset of the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi to commit to a $20 million pledge to join with Kathy and Joe Sanderson to kick off the $100 million fundraising campaign.”
Soon, the Junior League of Jackson, a long-time supporter of pediatric health care, announced a commitment to Children’s of Mississippi for more than $1 million.
University of Mississippi All-American and former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his wife Abby joined in, serving as honorary chairs for the Campaign and making their own $1 million gift.
Suzan Thames, a philanthropist in children’s health care in the state, said pediatrics at UMMC has always been supported across Mississippi.
“For many years, I have been privileged and beyond grateful to watch Mississippians transform the lives of children by providing to them access to the very best in health care,” Thames said. “Whether raising funds for the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders or for the Batson Tower or for the current and outstanding Sanderson Tower, the people of our state and beyond have opened wide their hearts and their pocketbooks.”
Helping the children
As the news of the campaign’s mission to expand the state’s only children’s hospital began to spread, donors from around the state made gifts of all sizes.
Robbie Hughes, the philanthropist who funded a faculty chair at UMMC's Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center, donated to the campaign after she learned of expansion plans and toured the children’s hospital.
“To know there are cardiac surgeons operating on teeny, tiny babies blew me away,” she said. “I was impressed with the degree of caring they showed, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Others who toured were equally inspired.
After visiting Batson Children’s Hospital each year as part of activities related to the Sanderson Farms Championship, “the children there left their fingerprints on our hearts,” said Susie Butts. She and her husband, Sanderson Farms Chief Operating Officer Lampkin Butts, made a $1 million donation to the campaign after learning more about the children’s hospital’s mission.
Touring Batson as part of the Sanderson Farms Championship, said Lampkin Butts, “just opened our eyes to what this hospital means to the state of Mississippi and to the children.”
Also helping children born with heart conditions are Dave and Priscilla O’Donnell, who gave $1 million to create the Priscilla and David O’Donnell Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Cardiac Wing.
“We felt like we should do something for others,” Dave O’Donnell said, “and it’s a good feeling.”
The family of Vicki Randle Bee – husband Alon and their children, Blake Bee and Paige Bee Dodgen – donated to create a neonatal intensive care room in her memory.
Starting her nursing career in the Medical Center’s NICU, she went on to care for patients with special needs while raising a family.
She “embodied the spirit of nursing,” Alon said, “and she had a heart for children. Vicki would have been so excited about this expansion of children’s health care in Mississippi.”
Other family connections inspired giving, too.
The simple prayer of a child for the children’s hospital patients inside the Batson Tower brought about a $1.5 million gift from the Van Devender Family Foundation to expand pediatric care at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Laura Van Devender Stansell prays each day with her daughters, including Clara Cate, or Cece.
Cece became fascinated with the rainbow logo atop Batson Children’s Hospital, Stansell said. “She loves the story of the rainbow in the Bible. When we would pass by the children’s hospital on the way to school, we’d talk about the hospital, and she wanted to pray for the children who are patients there, so we have ever since.”
Cece’s grandfather, Billy Van Devender Sr., learned of her prayers. “It really touched my heart,” he said, “and I started thinking about how we could help.”
Around the region
Creative ways of raising funds for the expansion have involved donors from around the state and beyond.
In the Hattiesburg area, Keith’s Superstores committed to contributing $125,000 toward the funding of five neonatal intensive care rooms, raising funds by donating a portion of each gallon of gas sold.
Delta State University alumni who had worked as waitstaff at Crawdad’s, a Merigold restaurant, held a reunion. The former staff members tied on their aprons and went to work for the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, raising $7,505 from tips and donations in memory of Crawdad’s founder Andrew Westerfield, who died in 2018 after battling cancer.
“He was like a second father to so many of us,” said Sean Bullock of Cleveland, who worked at Crawdad’s from 1992 to 2006 and graduated from DSU in 1999. “We know that he would have loved this and loved that we are helping children.”
The Gayle & Tom Benson Charitable Foundation joined in, giving $1 million to build the Gayle & Tom Benson Charitable Foundation Playground in honor of Sanderson Farms.
Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, said joining Children’s of Mississippi in the organization’s goal of helping all the state’s children reach their full potential was a choice she was happy to make, noting the “tremendous support from our teams’ fans in Mississippi.”
Across the state, members of the Mississippi Loggers Association to University of Mississippi students who volunteer in the annual RebelTHON fundraiser all have joined forces to help expand the children’s hospital.
Breaking ground, topping out
By Dec. 1, 2017, the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi had raised more than 60 percent of its $100 million goal. The confetti that fell that day was in celebration of another milestone, the groundbreaking that signaled the start of construction for the expansion.
“The fact that this groundbreaking happened less than two years after the launch of the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi shows how much we as Mississippians value our children and their health and how generous the people of this state are,” Joe Sanderson said. “The opening of this children’s tower will mean better outcomes for our children, but also better research, more top doctors coming to Mississippi and more jobs.”
After site preparation in the winter, the asphalt of what had been the parking lot of the children’s hospital was broken by spring.
Dirt was moved by the dump truck load until it was time for pilings to be sunk into the ground. That firm foundation was cemented with the pouring of truckloads of concrete. Two massive cranes that towered over the rooftop of the children’s hospital moved beams and boards up level by level, until the tower reached its full height.
The raising of a signature-covered beam to the tower’s top signaled the halfway point in the project. By that time, the campaign’s coffers had more than $74 million.
Reaching the goal
Today, the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi’s total has reached about 85 percent of its $100 million goal, but there is still work to be done.
“We have so much to be proud of,” said Joe Sanderson, “but we can’t stop here. That we have raised this much in the space of a few years is remarkable, but the job is not finished. The full $100 million is required.”
Thames predicts the new year will see the goal reached. “Raising $100 million to build a state-of-the-art facility is a monumental task, one that we will see to the finish line.”
"It’s so rewarding to see this dream come true as a result of the persistence and commitment of so many volunteers on the Campaign Committee, the UMMC leadership and, of course, the staff and members of the board of Friends of Children’s Hospital,” Ray said. “Attending the ribbon cutting for the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower brought joyful tears to my eyes as I thought back over the years and so many visits to the children’s hospital and the sweet smiles on the faces of so many children. Knowing the children now have such a wonderful state-of-the-art facility for their care warms my heart and feels like the gift of a lifetime to me.”
Joe Sanderson invites all Mississippians to join in, noting that each gift to the campaign is appreciated.
“We each have different situations in life, but all of us share one thing in common. We love our children and want what’s best for them,” he said. “Donations of all sizes will make sure that the best care for children’s illnesses and injuries is close to home and ready at a moment’s notice.”