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Mary Kilkenny began her day on October 7, 2007, around 4:30 a.m. and didn’t end it until the next morning at nearly 12:30 a.m. It was a long day in terms of just the hours. Add in that she ran the entire Chicago Marathon that morning and then waited tables at a St. Jude Children's Research Hospital fundraising event that afternoon and evening and you get a vivid portrait of a dedicated volunteer for the children of St. Jude.
Following her more than four-hour run in 90 degree heat, Kilkenny, who is the director of the Friends of St. Jude Board in Chicago, Illinois, participated in a St. Jude fundraiser held at Take Five restaurant. For seven hours, Kilkenny and other volunteers served food and shared the St. Jude mission with patrons. Any tips they made were donated to St. Jude. The event raised more than $1,000 for the hospital and helped raise awareness with customers.
“That was the most fun, even though it was tiring,” Kilkenny says.
Friends of St. Jude Chicago is a group of young professionals networking for a cause and dedicated to the mission of St. Jude and the fight against childhood cancer. As director, Kilkenny actively seeks to increase awareness of St. Jude. Hosting an event after the marathon seemed like an excellent way to tap into the large running community that had come to Chicago. In addition, NFL rivals the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers also had a game that night, so a big crowd was expected.
“It was energizing to find people who had not heard of St. Jude before,” she says. Kilkenny was even able to convince a patron to become a St. Jude Hero in the next Chicago Marathon.
What about the next day? “I took the day off,” Kilkenny says. “I was so exhausted.” But it’s something she would do again because she knows her fundraising efforts help St. Jude continue its mission of finding cures and saving children.
For Kilkenny, supporting St. Jude is the achievement of a dream she had as a little girl. Growing up, she knew she wanted to help children, possibly as a pediatrician. After deciding in college that a career in medicine was not right for her, Kilkenny found a new way of helping children: volunteering for St. Jude. She didn’t need to be a doctor to help children. And as a fundraiser for the hospital, Kilkenny found that she impacts the lives of thousands of children -- not just in one region as a doctor might, but around the world.
Kilkenny began supporting St. Jude in 2004 during the season of Lent, when she decided to add something to her life instead of giving something up, as is custom. By the following year, she was a full board member of the Friends of St. Jude. In 2006, she became the side-event co-chair, sharing the duties with a former St. Jude patient.
“That entire year co-chairing with her solidified my commitment because she was able to talk about St. Jude with so much energy and enthusiasm,” Kilkenny says.
Now as director, Kilkenny helps plan a number of fundraising events each year including a volleyball tournament, a wine tasting, and a variety of smaller events such as bowling nights and sushi tastings. The variety of events, Kilkenny says, brings people from all different backgrounds together. The Chicago group’s signature event is Harvest Moon that takes place every October. Harvest Moon serves as a networking opprtunity for young professionals and features a cocktail hour along with tastings from various restaurants in Chicago. Kilkenny describes it as a wedding where no one gets married. Harvest moon typically draws about 500 attendees, giving Kilkenny and the Friends of St. Jude staff a great opportunity to share the St. Jude message.
“First and foremost our mission is to get the word out about St. Jude,” Kilkenny says. “And our second goal is to raise money for the hospital. Once you do the first, the second will come.”