andrew kruse-ross | cp telethon | feb.2018
Calendars may read that spring officially begins on March 20, but for those residing in Northeastern Wisconsin, many are eager to turn the page on the frigid days of winter and welcome the coming of spring with open arms. Perhaps no event harnesses spring's optimism in N.E. Wisconsin like the annual CP Telethon.
Held during the first weekend of March, and first broadcast in 1954, the CP Telethon is the oldest annual telethon in the United States. While many telethons have come and gone, the CP Telethon continues to thrive.
“It's such a tradition engrained in this community. I think that's what gives it its life every year," says Kristen Paquet, CP's director of marketing and communications.
“People may not need to come here for our services ever, but they know what telethon is. Everyone has a memory it seems of telethon."
Last year, telethon collected more than $1.2 million and the non-profit organization hopes to eclipse those numbers in 2018. Funds collected during the telethon, which all stay in Northeastern Wisconsin, go to support the ongoing operations of CP's four primary programs. Those programs — adult day care services, therapy services, CP early education & care and the aquatic center — go beyond assisting those affected by cerebral palsy.
“Our services are pretty vast and wide," says Paquet. “We serve people whether they have a physical disability, a cognitive sensory condition or a communication disorder, so it really runs the gamut."
CP services persons of all abilities including those with ALS, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, autism and other special needs. As each case is unique, CP's services are tailored to the individual. While some clients only require part-time use of CP's services, others may require services more often.
Two-year-old Charlie Cheslock is a frequent visitor to CP. He was born with a large birthmark on his right side and an extra thumb on his right hand, but according to his mother, Charlie's first days at home were not out of the ordinary.
“We were not too concerned," says Melissa Cheslock, Charlie's mother. “He was breathing, eating and thriving, that's what mattered most to us. So we took him home from the hospital where he was a typical baby for about two months."
When Charlie stopped eating and refused anything in his mouth, he was taken to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin where he underwent more than a dozen tests.
“That's when our world came crashing down," says Cheslock. “We didn't know what was going on with Charlie, but we knew it wasn't good. From that moment on, more and more symptoms came to light including failure to eat on his own, significant respiratory challenges, poor vision, glaucoma, a cataract, heart issues and hyperthyroidism."
Today, Charlie remains undiagnosed, but doctors have discovered a gene mutation unique to Charlie. As no other person is known to have this mutation, doctors are reluctant to attribute his issues to the mutation but are working hard to better understand it.
Today, Charlie does not walk, talk or eat on his own and is legally blind. He attends CP regularly, receiving speech and occupational therapy once a week and physical therapy twice a week. He's also enrolled in CP's daycare and a parent/child swim class.
Cheslock, who moved from Milwaukee to De Pere to be closer to family, says the services Charlie has received at CP are “unparalleled."
“CP is a special place; we feel incredibly fortunate to have this option available to our family. Beyond the excellent therapy services, CP gives our family hope. We are now more hopeful than ever that Charlie will walk someday and that he will talk someday. Even if he doesn't, thanks to CP, we now have the tools that Charlie needs to have independence and a voice."
CP serves approximately 2,000 families in Northeastern Wisconsin via its facilities in Green Bay, Kimberly and Two Rivers. The CP Telethon is the best way to ensure that those requiring CP's services get them.
“Without the generosity of the community, many of our family, friends and neighbors might not have the opportunity to receive the services they need," says CP's Director of Development, Callie Sherman.
While Sherman believes most of the public have a general sense about CP and see it as a community resource, she says most would have to come through the door to see what CP is really all about.
This year during the telethon, organizers hope to paint a clearer picture of the goals being set and reached by CP's clients. Many of those goals, says Sherman, are the things “a lot of us take for granted."
“It's someone taking their first step at 22 years old without assistance, it's somebody who was paralyzed from the waist down who has used our aquatic center and now can walk again, it's a baby in daycare who might not be at the same pace as his classmates but is now starting to crawl at two or three years old."
“We really want to focus on that human spirit," says Paquet. “Not everybody will have a reason to come use our services, but everyone can rally around the human spirit and celebrate that — celebrate an achievement, a goal."
The CP Telethon also serves to highlight the goals and fundraising efforts of those that have collected for the non-profit organization throughout the year.
Of course, no telethon would be complete without plenty of entertainment and this year is no exception.
Featured on the “Today Show" and “Ellen," the wheelchair-dance troupe The Rollettes are coming all the way from Los Angeles to participate in this year's telethon. Not only performing during the telethon, the troupe plans to give area dancers instruction via a dance clinic while here in Green Bay.
Staying closer to home, organizers seek to highlight the abundance of talent found in Northeastern Wisconsin.
“This year, we really went after the area's best bands," says telethon emcee Frank Hermans. “A lot of them were Best of the Bay winners or finalists."
The lineup includes The Cougars, Johnny Wad, Red Clover, N.E.W. Piano Guys and Hermans' own Let Me Be Frank Productions. Also slated to perform are 7000apart, Blake Matthews, Bobby Rivers and “the best Journey tribute band in the world," Separate Ways.
This will be Hermans' 13th year co-emceeing the telethon for CP. He's candid in speaking about the organization and how those closest to him have benefited from CP's services.
When his adopted daughter, Katrina, was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder at 11 months old, CP was there to help. Seeing first hand how CP not only helped his family, but the families of so many others, Hermans was compelled to do more. Today he serves as first vice president on CP's board of directors.
“I grew up watching the telethon," says Hermans. “As an entertainer, performing during telethon was a bucket list item, but getting to emcee for CP really gives me a chance to express the passion that I have for this organization."
The CP Telethon airs at new times on March 3 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and March 4 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on WBAY-TV 2. Watch online at WBAY.com/live.
To become involved with the telethon as a VIP or an Advocate, or to make a donation, visit CPtelethon.org.
For more information on CP, visit WeAreCP.org.
--banner image by Sue Pilz