Cottage Grove High School seniors will compete on stage this Saturday in the school’s annual Lion Pride Pageant, a fundraiser for sick and injured children at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.
“This year the theme is Lion Pride Pageant – The Musical,” said Lorri Hanson, pageant co-advisor. “Each of the contestants will be dressed as a character from a different musical.”
The pageant, a part of the Kids Helping Kids program, will raise funding for Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit program of the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center Foundation dedicated to providing medical services and treatments to children.
The fundraising concept originated more than two decades ago with a young Eugene student who, after getting in trouble on the school bus, was penalized by having to come up with a way he could give back to the community. Though his plan initially began as a coin drive, the idea gradually expanded.
In the 1992-1993 school year, Sheldon High School staged the first pageant, its success and popularity soon spreading to other schools in the area.
“It’s become part of the culture at a lot of these schools and part of their legacy, which I think is really neat,” said Alexa Sharps, the Foundation’s pediatric program director of development.
Cottage Grove High School has been a participant since 1995 and is now among 16 area high schools which have to date raised $6.3 million for Children’s Miracle Network. Cottage Grove alone has raised more than $300,000 as it now wraps up its 24th year of committing to the tradition.
Though raising funds for children’s medical needs receives popular support, Sharps wants to dispel a myth.
“The one thing we don’t support is patient bills,” she said. “Having a baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for months on end is very, very expensive and if we were to do that, we wouldn’t be able to serve as many people as we do in terms of the items that we purchase.”
The funding is used to primarily to purchase a wide variety of equipment including infant isolettes (archaically referred to as “incubators”), blood pressure cuffs or even the provision of food and transportation vouchers.
“It really extends pretty far,” Sharps said. “Any service in our hospital that effects the health of children.”
In July, the hospital is also planning to use funds to open the Heartfelt House, which will provide free accommodation for family members of patients.
“That’ll be an amazing resource for our families,” said Sharps.
On top of equipment, the program has recently started providing pay for two staff positions.
“We support two pediatric child life specialists, which are incredibly important and super vital,” Sharps said.
The schools themselves benefit as well. Ten percent of what schools raise goes back into health-related areas of the schools’ choice.
“They’re helping kids who are being treated in the community in the hospital but they’re also helping kids in their school,” Sharps said. “So I think it’s a pretty special program in that aspect.”
Saturday’s Lion Pride Pageant will feature a host of skits and performances created by the students. Starting off with an opening dance number, the contestants will then take the stage with children they have personally chosen to perform with, reminding the audience of the pageant’s purpose.
Contestants must also perform two skits on separate themes: “sports” and “heroes.”
“The sports are unique, to put it mildly,” Hanson said. “They’re not your conventional sports. So they have to come up with something creative around that.”
A family-oriented segment follows in which students, in formal wear, honor a chosen family member.
As a final challenge, a question and answer session will put contestants on the spot in a test of wits.
Though five judges from the community will ultimately decide on a winner, there is a shared sentiment among students and supervisors that the experience and message supersede any honors.
“It’s about the process,” said Lucas Davey, one of the pageant’s contestants. “I wanted to make a difference and this was my first real chance to do that.”
Months of fundraising, preparation and discovery have endowed the pageant’s participants with an experience which has been described as “life-changing.”
“One part of the pageant process is they come on these tours of the hospital,” said Sharps. “They stay a couple hours and we show them first-hand who they’re helping and what they’re helping to purchase. It makes it much more tangible for them, which I think is really important.”
Earlier this year, 20 Cottage Grove students were taken on a tour through the RiverBend hospital, which included visits to the Neonatal ICU and Pediatric and Adolescent Care Unit.
Davey and fellow contestant Claudia Eiser walked away from the experience feeling the gravity of their efforts.
“The tour of the hospital made a big impact,” Davey said. “I know I came back different.”
Eiser, who had volunteered at RiverBend for her freshman year, was moved by the experience despite being familiar with the units.
“One of our teachers was with us on the tour and he went over the most powerful story of his kid in the NICU and how it affected his life and how things wouldn’t have been the same if he hadn’t gotten the care from the Children’s Miracle Network,” she said. “It was really impactful. A lot of tears.”
Being a part of the program has only reinforced Eiser’s desire to be in medicine.
“I want to effect families’ lives,” she said. “I want to support the people who need to be supported and help the babies who need to be helped. I want to make an impact that will change a person’s life forever. And doing this is a way to make that impact.”
Because the program draws from a diverse selection of students at the high school, participants who might otherwise be strangers find themselves bound by this life-affirming event.
“Claudia and I hadn’t interacted much until this pageant,” Davey said. “All of the contestants have grown so much closer.”
Eiser nodded. “We’re like a little family,” she said.
Tickets can be purchased at the Cottage Grove High School main office. Sales are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.