June 30, 2008 09:00 AM by Ryan Haidet
Just days ago, Louisville, Kentucky, was a hot spot to see some popular reality stars who were in town for a good cause – to raise money for Kosair Charities and to buy gifts for kids stuck in the hospital on Christmas. Hundreds of fans showed up to the Kentuckiana Police and Firefighter Summer Bash Benefit to meet previous Survivors, Amazing Racers and many more.
“We do our research and we want people (celebrities) who want to be here and who we believe have good character and values and believe in what we’re doing,” policeman Kelly Jones, a co-organizer of the event said. “We will never have someone here just for the sake of celebrity status if we don’t think they will mix well into the crowd or that they’re heart is truly in the right place and that they want to be here for the right reasons. It’s not just about celebrity status, it’s about who you are as a person and if you want to come to our event, we want you to be a good person with a big heart.”
This organization has grown a reputation among the reality stars, many of whom request an invitation to be one of the celebrity guests. “We’ve probably turned down 50 reality TV stars this year simply because of budget reasons,” Jones said. “They have e-mailed us and say, ‘Can we attend?’ And we tell them, ‘We sure do appreciate it, but our budget won’t allow it; we’re full this year.’ And that’s a credit to the organization, to the folks that work hard to make things happen behind the scenes.”
Above image of Kathy Sleckman and Chris Daugherty is courtesy of Bret Sohl.
For the fifth year in a row, the event has proven to be a great success. “The first two years we barely broke even and loaned our money to make it and five years later, we certainly don’t have to do that anymore,” Jones said. “It’s become such an enamored event and the public has been captivated by it, as well as sponsors have been, and I think that the amount of support within the community is probably the thing we’re most proud of.”
But support from fireman, co-organizer and best friend Matt Keith helps make this event stick together and go off without any problems. “Matt and I are best friends and that makes doing something like this easier,” Jones continued. “The flow is there, the friendship is there. Even when you get irritated with one another, you don’t really take it personal. And even when you’re irritated with each other, when it’s your best friend, it’s still fun.”
And Keith is thrilled to know Jones. “Kelly is my best friend in the world,” Keith said. “He helps me so much in life with everything. My daughter, mom, brother, anyone close to me knows him and they all know how much he means to me. I am very guarded about who I let close to myself and my daughter, and Kelly made me feel like we had known each other forever. We just clicked from the first meeting. I now have a granddaughter and Kelly and his wife were the first friends of mine that were at the hospital after she was born. He and his family are pure gold and I would be lost without them. The charity is very blessed to have a man like him, with the dedication, heart and determination. This thing just would not work without him. Period!”
The money raised at each of these events is used to purchase gifts for children who are stuck in the hospital on Christmas. Jones and Keith deliver the presents personally, and it’s often an emotional experience. “When I first started, I wore a snowman costume every year and I was glad I had it on the first year because I cried inside the costume,” Jones continued. “And I made a vow that I’d never go in there again without that costume so I could hide the tears. But I changed my mind and I knew it was the right thing to do just to go in there and share in those folks’ pain at times. You want to let folks know you empathize with them, that you genuinely care. And I think that’s what parents and children appreciate.” As for the leftover dollars, they are donated to Kosair Charities to use where they feel the need is most great.
Both men, who say they do watch some reality television, hold the charity close to their hearts. “I have benefited directly from that children’s hospital,” Keith said. “When my daughter, who is 18 now, was born, she weighed 2 pounds and 8 ounces. She was 2 1/2 months premature and I saw so many things that were donated and paid for with money from Kosair Charities. My heart is absolutely full of goodness and thanks for this charity. I have been a single father, raising my daughter alone for 13 years, and without the things donated while my daughter was in the hospital, I am not sure where she and I would be at this moment. Secondly, it is a blessing to be able to do this with my best friend in the world. Really without him, myself and this charity would be in bad shape. He and his family love my family as their own and I cannot ask for more.”
Jones sums up the whole thing fairly simply. “I recently heard a quote by the great Tim Russert. He said, ‘The best exercise for the heart is when you bend over to help someone else.’ And I’ve thought about that since his death and I’ve began to realize that’s true.”
In the coming days and weeks keep checking RealityTVMagazine.com to see more coverage of the event, including exclusive interviews with Survivors like Bobby Jon Drinkard, Courtney Yates and Denise Martin who addresses the controversy surrounding her comments at the Survivor: China finale.