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Sam and Rhonda Hewlett, of Houston, Texas, are never ones for the spotlight, especially when it comes to their volunteer work for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"We do the things we do to help the kids, and not because of anything we might get for it," Sam said.
During the past decade, the Hewletts have done plenty for the kids of St. Jude. They have organized a number of annual events for St. Jude, from trail rides and barbecue cook-offs to golf tournaments and bowl-a-thons. And those events have raised more than $600,000 to help the hospital continue its mission of finding cures and saving children.
Despite their gentle attempts at shifting the focus back to St. Jude, it is the Hewletts, and thousands of other volunteers like them all across the country, that have made it possible for children stricken with deadly diseases to have a chance at life.
The Hewletts themselves came by volunteering for St. Jude in an indirect way. A friend of theirs, Jimmy Hilton, was asked to coordinate a trail ride to benefit the hospital. The first people Hilton thought to call were Sam and Rhonda. They agreed to help organize the event, handling the barbecue cook-off while Hilton coordinated the trail ride. In 2000, the Hiltons and the Hewletts were selected as the Volunteer Coordinators of the Year.
Shortly after, the Hiltons moved to another area of Texas and the Hewletts became the sole coordinators of the Houston-area event. And almost every day of the year, the couple is doing something to get ready for their event.
"We want to help the kids," Sam said. "We have several grandchildren and all of them are healthy. I don't think most people realize how lucky they are when their kids are healthy. It is something they take for granted, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It is just not something most people think about until they see how tough life can be for a family when a child is seriously ill."
Not a day goes by that the Hewletts don't, in some capacity, work for St. Jude, either on the events they coordinate or by sharing the St. Jude mission with others. "We have made more friends through the St. Jude events than any other way," Rhonda said.
But more importantly, the Hewletts have made a difference in the lives of the children of St. Jude. One patient in particular is what continues to drive them.
"We met a patient a number of years ago," Sam said, "and he touched us very much. We met his grandmother and kept in contact with them after meeting them. Although he eventually died, we know from first-hand experience that St. Jude prolonged his life. The hospital even kept in touch with the family after he passed away. I have never heard that said about any other hospital. We will always help St. Jude."