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Since its inception in 1989, Country Cares for St. Jude Kids® has become one of the biggest fund-raising programs for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Country musicians, record companies and fans have joined together to raise more than $181 million in pledges to help critically ill children at St. Jude.
But country music star Keith Urban thought they could do much more.
The day before the 2002 Fan Fair, an annual gathering where country music stars mingle and greet with fans, Urban invited members of his and other fan clubs to a reception. There he issued what is now known as the “Fan Club Challenge.”
Urban asked all in attendance to do what they could to raise money for St. Jude through a friendly competition among fan clubs.
This Australian singer/guitarist burst onto the country music scene in 2000. Urban’s performance earned him the Top New Male Vocalist Award at the 2001 Academy of Country Music Awards and established him as a rising star. The year 2000 also marked Urban’s first visit to St. Jude. He toured the hospital as part of the 2000 Country Cares seminar along with other artists and hundreds of representatives from country radio stations around the country. The mission of Danny Thomas, to ensure that “no child should die in the dawn of life,” touched Urban’s heart.
“One trip to St Jude will leave you with no doubt that progress is being made,” Urban says. “There is no greater contribution to make in our lives than to our children, the future. In sharing their findings with hospitals all around the world, St. Jude continues to help not just the kids who are there but children and their families everywhere. This is why we initiated the Fan Club Challenge. Awareness is the key to continue and grow the support we all have for St. Jude.”
Country entertainer Toby Keith’s fans, or “warriors” as he calls them, threw down the first gauntlet in the Fan Club Challenge. The day after Urban made his challenge, Keith’s fans raised $2,705 through an auction of the singer’s memorabilia at the opening day of Fan Fair.
A flurry of activity followed. Fan club Web sites began carrying the challenge to all corners of the country music world. Ideas on how to meet the challenge poured in. Calendar and T-shirt sales, silent auctions, sales of food by individuals and businesses—even collections of aluminum cans—were ways that groups rallied around the cause.
Fans of country artists Tracy Lawrence, Tommy Shane Steiner, Billy Ray Cyrus, Andy Griggs, Bryan White, Gary Allan, Wynonna Judd and more have joined in the challenge to see whose fan club can raise the most funds. So far, the clubs have raised more than $59,000.
Urban fans respond
One of Urban’s fans opted to sell Keith Urban calendars that featured concert photos submitted by the fans. Response was tremendous, not just in terms of the photographs, but in individuals wishing to help defray production costs so the total profit from the calendar sales would go to St. Jude.
So far, the Urban calendar has raised more than $6,000 for the hospital. That puts Urban’s fan club in the lead with more than $27,000 raised, including a $10,000 donation from an anonymous fan.
“I am very proud of how the fans have responded, how giving they have all been,” says Bettina Tangman, a Web master for www.keithurbanfans.com. “I am proud of the other fan clubs and I am proud to be a fan of Keith’s.”
Patients are the winners
Toby Keith’s “warriors” followed up their opening salvo with a silent auction through the fan club newsletter, which raised $2,135. Kay Johnson, who oversees the fan club newsletter for the club, expressed her respect and admiration for the country music fans who have supported the hospital year after year and have taken on this additional challenge.
Until the anonymous $10,000 donation through Urban’s fan club, both his and Keith’s groups were running neck and neck. But winning the Fan Club Challenge is not at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“I’m not real worried about winning the challenge,” says Johnson. “I’m just worried about raising as much money as we possibly can for St. Jude … for the kids.”
“Since we began Country Cares we have known that country music fans have a special place in their hearts for St. Jude,” says David L. McKee, chief operating officer of ALSAC, the hospital's fund-raising arm. “The response to the Fan Club Challenge has again shown the generosity that this musical genre and its fans have for our children.”