April Foolies has a serious mission not-so-hidden among the frivolity

A trio of CEO for the three groups who reap the monetary benefits of April Foolies got together with the committee recently at Sullivans.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

A trio of CEO for the three groups who reap the monetary benefits of April Foolies got together with the committee recently at Sullivans.

There are fundraisers…and then there’s April Foolies.

“A lot of times, you go to a fundraiser to get something to eat, then you do something and then leave,” United Way of Blount County President and CEO Michelle Hankes said. “April Foolies is different. It is non-stop participation and fun. The fun is being part of it. The fun is seeing the kids from the Gate performing and loving it and seeing the parents of the young teenagers perform and seeing them rooting for them. It is more than just a show, it is a community event.”

April Foolies 2011 is set for 7 p.m. April 1 at The Clayton Center for the Arts on the campus of Maryville College. In addition to being a time for the community to come together and laugh on April Fool’s Day, the event raises needed funds and awareness for three community agencies: Success by 6, a United Way program; New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center; and the Gateway to Independence.

The annual event is also a way for community leaders to laugh -- and be laughed at -- as they put on skits and sing songs. It is more than just “foolishness,” however, as somehow talented performers also find their way to the stage.

While there is a panel of judges, the winner literally buys the prize. At the end of the night, the winners are determined by how much money they raise through collected “bribes” for the judges from the audience.

Gateway to Independence executive director Christy Walsh said April Foolies allows her program to do three things. “It gives us funds we obviously need. It allows us to reach out to a population we typically wouldn’t be involved with -- the greater Blount County community -- and it allows us to collaborate with other non-profit agencies,” she said. “This allows all of us the opportunity to have the community come together and support three agencies at once. It is pretty critical to us and raises about one-sixth of our operating budget.”

New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center executive director Trudy Hughes said being able to be included as one of the agencies that gets to participate and benefit is a real honor. “When it first started, it was an event to support Success by 6, and I was on the planning committee to help them. The way it has grown to where it includes our agency and the Gate, it is a wonderful honor,” she said. “For each agency, this nets about $7,000 which goes into different services for kids and families. It is a significant amount, and we count it as one of our four signature fundraisers.”

Hankes said April Foolies is basically the funding body for Success by 6. “Success by 6 relies of April Foolies for most of its funding,” she said. “I would say the majority of it. I would say 80 to 90 percent of the program is funded by April Foolies, although we do have a couple of grants as well.”

Walsh said the biggest benefit of being part of April Foolies is the momentum it draws from the community. “We have people who never heard of Gate call us up to volunteer, and they get to know our names and get to interact with our participants in a variety of ways,” she said. “It is a huge opportunity for us to meet people we wouldn’t normally meet and for our participants to interact with a segment of the community they wouldn’t normally see.”

Hankes said April Fooliess also is an opportunity to educate the public about Success by 6. “Success by 6 is well-known by people who use it, but not necessarily by those who don’t. From that perspective, it is an invaluable tool for our community,” she said. “Plus, we get to work with the other two agencies. They’re fun.”

Hughes said the event allows New Hope to take the services children and families and create more awareness for those services. “Folks are uncomfortable with the notion children are abused and traumatized, and sometimes it is a hard thing to educate the community about. When you have a great event like April Foolies, which is also a lot of fun and brings children, families and adults together from across the community, it affords us a couple minutes to explain why we need the Children’s Advocacy Center, Success by 6 and the Gateway to Independence,” she said.

Walsh said The Gate participants are excited about performing at the Clayton Center for the Arts. “This is an opportunity for our participants to perform and feel they’re giving back to the community for all the community does for us,” she said.

Hughes said the community’s volunteer spirit is evident at April Foolies. “Folks get excited and involved with April Foolies. It was one of those fun holidays from the past that, other than pulling a prank, you didn’t celebrate it,” she said. “When we celebrate April Fools Day in a community-wide sort of way, we’ve made it into something special as a way to enjoy one another and raise much needed funds to support agencies that do important work in our community.”

Hankes said Success by 6 offers free education to child care providers and foster care parents who are state-mandated to take education training. “If they had to go out and pay for each of the classes, that cost would have to go back to the people giving foster care,” she said. “If we remove that cost, it relieves a burden that would come to people with children. In addition, it is good education.”

For more information visit www.unitedwayblount.org or call 865-982-2251.

The New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center, located at 212 Cates Street in Maryville, is a child-friendly, safe place for child victims of sexual and physical abuse. Children, along with their non-offending family members, can receive the services necessary for return to optimal functioning within an environment that is designed to be the “child’s office” where the multiple agencies and professionals convene to coordinate and deliver services.

For more information, visit www.blountkids.org or call 865-981-2000.

The Gate is a designated 501(c)(3) non-profit agency. Their mission is to help young adults with disabilities achieve independence by providing them with vocational training and social activities.

Gate activities are held at the Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church located at 1830 Clydesdale Street just off East Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville. For more information, visit www.gatewaytoindependence.org or call Christy Walsh, executive director, at 865-379-7904.

Tickets are $15 per person, $10 for seniors and students. VIP tickets are $25 per person and include the show and a post-show reception. Tickets may be purchased at the Clayton Center for the Arts box office, at www.ClaytonArtsCenter.com or by calling 865-981-8590. They are also available at United Way, The Gate, New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center and Blount Today.

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