Telethon this weekend to benefit scores of local families
by Laura Camper
Jul 28, 2013 | 5889 views |  0 comments | 95 95 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gemma Brown with her parents, Craig and Sherry Brown. Gemma, who has Down syndrome, is the 2013 UCP poster child. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Gemma Brown with her parents, Craig and Sherry Brown. Gemma, who has Down syndrome, is the 2013 UCP poster child. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
When her daughter was born with Down’s syndrome, Sherry Brown of Heflin was lost, she said.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said.

But through friends, she found the East Central Alabama United Cerebral Palsy, and that has made all the difference, she said.

Brown’s daughter, Gemma, started the UCP program at 2 months of age. The staff evaluated her and set up a plan to help her reach childhood milestones such as rolling over and walking. Staff also reviewed Gemma’s progress along the way.

“They were my guidelines,” Sherry Brown said. “Thank goodness.”

Gemma, now 2-and-a-half, is a poster child for the 55th Annual East Central Alabama United Cerebral Palsy telethon.

The telethon will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Anniston City Meeting Center. It kicks off fundraising that over the course of the year brings in about $369,000, or between 20 percent and 25 percent of the local chapters’ funding each year, said Linda Johns, the organization’s director.

“So, it’s critical,” Johns said.

United Cerebral Palsy serves hundreds of families in its five-county area including Cleburne, Calhoun, Talladega, Clay and Randolph counties. It also occasionally picks up children from other UCP chapters when they have too many to handle, Johns said. From October through June of this year, East Central Alabama UCP has served 17 families in Cleburne County and 119 in Calhoun County, Johns said.

UCP provides physical, occupational and speech therapy. It provides special instruction to clients who need it and it coordinates the services to make sure families are getting the help they need, Johns said. It serves children with special needs including those with cerebral palsy from birth to age 3, she added.

“We serve so many other disabilities besides cerebral palsy,” Johns said, mentioning Gemma as an example.

Gemma receives speech, physical and occupational therapy through the program. She also attends the UCP center’s daycare twice a week, her mother said. In addition, the family participates in the respite program, which allows them to hire a babysitter to watch Gemma and reimburses them up to $100 per month. It’s a good program, Brown said, because it’s hard to find a babysitter who is comfortable working with her daughter’s special needs.

This weekend, volunteers plan to collect donations in front of stores and at roadblocks throughout the service area. In addition, will be a silent auction is planned at Anniston the City Meeting Center on Saturday and the Coaches Challenge on Sunday, Johns said.

For the challenge, area coaches call their supporters, often recruiting their players and cheerleaders to help. The coach who raises the most money wins the Spirit Award, Johns said. Last year’s winner, Jeff Smith of Wellborn High School, will defend his title this year, she said.

“It gets pretty competitive,” Johns said with a laugh.

The telethon takes thousands of volunteers to pull off, Johns said. UCP has been lucky to have groups adopt the telethon as a project year after year, she added. For instance Calhoun County Civil Defense members have been working the telethon weekend for the last 52 years, Johns said.

“It’s the returning groups that keep us moving,” Johns said.

The telethon will run Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. On Friday, Aug. 9, Mike Pruitt’s Oldies Party, held in conjunction with the telethon for the last several years, will be held at the Oxford Civic Center.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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