July 15, 2007 05:15 PM by Joe Blackmon
Written by Ryan Haidet. Louisville, Kentucky, became reality TV central when the fourth annual
Kentuckiana Police and Firefighter Summer Bash Benefit was held last
weekend. More than 30 celebrities from a variety of shows including
The Amazing Race, Survivor and The Apprentice came out to help raise
money for Kosair Charities. This money is used to buy presents for children who are stuck in the hospital for Christmas.
This event was nothing but warm and welcoming from start to finish. Friday, the day began with a tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum giving everybody a chance to watch the making of a professional baseball bat.
Then it headed off to Churchill Downs later that day with Survivors Ami, Flica and Jolanda coming out in their sundresses and hats for a day at the horse races. The dinner was great and being placed in the same, private room as the Queen had been in for the derby was incredible. The treatment was amazing. Following dinner was a private tour of the place including the stables, which was a chance for the stars to pet the horses (Ami Cusack got on one) and the opportunity to get as close to the track as possible when watching a race.
As more and more of the celebrity guests arrived, Friday night brought the first event where the public could attend – a cruise on the Ohio River for $50. What was to be a 90-minute ride turned into a four-hour one filled with dancing, autograph signing and a chance to get a picture with the stars. This was a lot of fun and the food was great.
Saturday morning the group gathered on the bus (used for the entire trip to transport everybody) and headed off to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. The park couldn’t have given more of a VIP treatment than they had done. Given front-of-the-line access, the celebrities had the chance to ride anything they wanted.
Saturday night brought the main event, with approximately 500 guests in attendance for a chance to have one-on-one conversations with each celebrity. There was an Elvis impersonator, food and a photo area where you could get a picture taken with any celebrity you wanted for a small fee. The great thing about this was that the photo was ready in minutes and fans could have the photo autographed.
Several trip highlights: Riding a roller coaster with Yau-Man, getting to talk one-on-one with many of the contestants and watching Cao Boi get rid of Rupert’s manager’s (Jimmy Swan) “bad wind.” He turned to me when it was over and asked, “Do I have a red dot?” Boy did he have a red dot!
I went everywhere with the entire group giving me a firsthand experience at what the event was all about. It couldn’t have been put together by any greater of people (Kelly and Matt – organizers). This was truly a five-star event and done for a great cause. I just wish I could be there to see the kids when they get their presents on Christmas morning with the money raised at this event.
Organizer, Lieutenant Kelly Jones, said this event keeps on growing. “We needed one car the first year. Now we have to have a bus. Next year we will probably have to have two busses. Our advertising budget is zero and that’s phenomenal. We don’t have to spend money to get the word out. No matter what you do, the bottom line is charity. You want to give people a good value, a sense of appreciation and yet you want to keep charity number one. Year four we’re at 500 people. The charity wins in that situation. It takes a lot of time, but it’s not difficult to do. I never had any expertise in putting one on.”
What did the reality stars have to say about the event? Travis “Bubba” Sampson of Survivor: Vanuatu: “I’ve attended the last three. (Organizers) Kelly’s a police officer and Matt’s a fireman. These men dedicate their lives and their careers to help the community. They’re constantly helping other people. I ensure you when you come to this charity they’re not just blowing smoke people. You’ve got two awesome friends sitting over here. And I’d go through the fire for these guys. They set the standard of what a charity should be.”
“I think one of the biggest things with this charity is it’s helping children. We should use that tool we’ve been given (being on Survivor) to do something positive. And helping children I think is one of the best things you could do. Kelly (organizer) was telling me of the time he first delivered the toys he dressed like Santa Claus. Every year after that now, he’s dressed up like Frosty the Snowman, that way the children can’t see him cry.”
He said this is a great place for fans to help a charity while meeting their favorite stars. “This is the best opportunity they can have to help a child, and also, if they’re a true fan, to boost your chances of being on the show. We have 25, 28 Survivors here. Every one of them got on Survivor different. You can talk to them, ask them any questions you want, because it’s open. Get you a game plan, see what makes everybody different here. Find out what category you fall in, then better your chances to be on the show.”
He’s said this event is extremely professional. “Matt and Kelly have been superb in putting this together. Professionalism is the only word I can use to express how this thing’s gone over. The scheduling, the planning, the hard work in getting the entertainment, the guests, the sponsors, all this, has just been done to professionalism at its best.”
Rupert Boneham of Survivor: All-Stars and Pearl Islands: “My favorite time was going to the hospital. Going to the hospital and seeing these children that are warriors and you see their families that are crumbling. I go to the hospitals to help the families as much as the kids ’cause the kids don’t know who we are, but the parents do. Being able to sit with the parents and let them know that there’s people out there that care. Stick your phone number and your e-mail in their hand and say, ‘Call me.’ That is most definite, the best for me. Best for my daughter has been playing at (Six Flags) Kentucky Kingdom.”
He said the hospital had an effect on him. “To walk into a young lady’s room that’s been four months in chemo in the hospital. To see her light up and to see her mama, who is laying in the couch next to her, perk up and get the big eyes and say how much she loves me and have a bracelet and an autograph, make them happy. I don’t take my wife and daughter to the hospitals anymore cause I’m not crazy about having them be with me as I’m getting so emotional and sitting there crying with people. Because my daughter at 8 years old doesn’t understand.”
He said this is definitely an event for fans to attend in the future. Being a reality TV fan, it’s been fun for him as well. “I remember standing in line for two hours at the state fair to get Kentucky Joe’s (Rodger Bingham of Survivor: The Australian Outback) autograph. And I still treasure that as my favorite Survivor autograph. Being able to come to these events, helping the world is wonderful. If paying a little bit of money helps the world and you get to hobnob. I mean, not just take 30 seconds, 15 seconds, but you can spend hours and talk to some of us and find out what it was really like out there. You never get those chances. You get those chances at events like this. I would have gone insane at one of these in 2001. I would have been, you know, with the big eyes. I stood in line two hours to get Kentucky Joe’s autograph. Some of us are just like that.”
Lynn Turk of The Amazing Race 10: “Mary and Dave (of her season) gave me a hint that Kelly and Matt might be contacting me so I started doing my research like, ‘Who are these people, what are they?’ And when I heard they were benefiting the Kosair hospital and read more and found out more about the Kosair hospital, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a worthwhile cause.’ I have three children so of course there’s a special place in my heart. I’ve been blessed not to have to use a children’s hospital in severe cases, you know. But I have a friend who lost her son, her 9 year old, to juvenile cancer. I know very well what a children’s hospital does. They basically wrote off her bill for her. It was a chance to give back.”
Tana Goertz of The Apprentice: “I could not resist coming because I am passionate about helping children, just helping people that are sick and giving back. Actually this is my second charity event that there’s a lot of reality stars. I typically do my own thing with charities that are important to me. Women and children and families are where my heart is. I typically don’t like to be around a ton of reality stars because then there’s people that are looking for the limelight and it loses the reason we’re all here.”
The event was more than she said she had expected. “I would say tonight absolutely set the bar so high for any charity event that I could ever want to be a part of because, one Kelly and Matt were absolute gentlemen and they treated me like a queen from when I got here. It was first class all the way. They are class acts. I’d come back in a heart beat. This event was so fantastic that I’d put this on my calendar and I’d miss speaking opportunities to come here.”
Her best way to describe the event: “Unforgettable. That’s the word that I use when I speak to people – the art of being unforgettable. Fantastic. Out of the park. Great people. I mean, you can feel the love. I just like helping people who are sincere. They’re so sincere. This wasn’t for the limelight, this wasn’t for the cameras. Some people do things for the wrong reasons and I was absolutely impressed that these guys were doing it from the bottom of their heart and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
The reality stars weren’t the only folks having a good time. Fans turned out in droves to get the chance to meet their favorites. Louisville resident, Missy Steier, was excited to be there. “I found out about it because I’m a member of NELBA (Northeastern Louisville Business Administration),” she said. “We were offered VIP tickets before they went out to the public.” She couldn’t believe she met Bobby Jon Drinkard of Survivor fame. “Exciting, amazing, a dream,” she said of meeting him. “I never thought that would happen, seeing him on TV.” She enjoyed it so much that she said she’d come back next year. “Definitely would come back because it’s for a good cause, it’s for Kosair Children. It’s nice to see people you watched on TV and became a part of your life while you’re sitting there every week.”
Her friend, Lori Epling, also a Louisville resident, came along for the fun, and has firsthand experience with the good this charity does. “I work in an ambulance. I see exactly what this money goes to because I’m in children’s hospital all the time. In the children’s hospital, I’ve seen better equipment, I’ve seen what the money’s been spent for on the floors, in the emergency room in the waiting room, so I can see this from both sides. It’s just cool to be here (laughs).”
Major Survivor fan Michael Allbright (aka “Big Mike”) drove three hours down for the event. “This event just seemed really sharp,” he said. “Everything was under control. I thought it was one of the best events that I’ve been to. I’d put it in the top three.”
He said he was surprised with the turnout of fans at this event. “Fan wise, it was actually more than I’ve seen lately. Some of the events I’ve been to, the fans are less and less and less. I believe that the police and firefighter element brought in a lot of folks that maybe were casual fans. For a compact four hours, I think it was well worth driving six hours round trip. And $25 for this I think was fabulous. I came here to meet the Survivors and there were about 25 of them so that’s a dollar a person. I mean a dollar to talk to Big Tom for ten minutes. I don’t know what I’d pay for that, but it’d be more than a dollar.”
Visit the official Web site of the event at http://www.kpffb.org/ to get updates on next year’s event.