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Behind the Scenes of Big Slick: Family, Fun and Saving Lives

Behind the Scences of Big Slick

Once in a great while, maybe even once in a lifetime, we can have the sense that we are touching something truly remarkable and truly good. Many in the Metro Area know that Big Slick is a fundraiser for Children’s Mercy and that celebrities, David Koechner, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet and Jason Sudeikis who call KC home, come back each year to raise money for the hospital’s Cancer Center.

However, while press releases and photos focus on the celebrities, what most don’t know is the depth of heart and commitment behind Big Slick that come from the coordinators who happen to be the hosts’ family members including their sisters: Mandi Rudd, Joan Koechner Charbonneau, Julie Riggle McKee, and Mauria Stonestreet. The are joined by Mark McKee, Gloria Rudd, Kathy and Dan Sudeikis, and Jamey Stonestreet, and all co-chair the event. Family is the hidden heart of Big Slick.

In 2009, when Rob Riggle first entertained the idea of holding a celebrity poker tournament to raise money for Children’s Mercy, he asked his family for help. Today, Team Big Slick is still just that: family. The four women and their families are joined by dedicated friends, faithful sponsors and volunteers who share a passion for enabling life-saving research at the hospital’s Cancer Center.

The first year, Julie Riggle McKee and her husband, Mark, along with Gloria Rudd, Paul’s mom, all from Leawood worked with Kathy and Dan Sudeikis, Jason’s parents, of Overland Park on the inaugural Big Slick event. A lawyer, Riggle handled the contracts and worked with Children’s Mercy Hospital, while Mark networked with venues and coordinated the event logistics. Gloria Rudd shared her skills in media and radio advertising and her personal experience planning events for another local non-profit foundation. Kathy Sudeikis brought her skills as a travel agent, along with her husband Dan’s can-do attitude. A few close friends and talented professionals also joined the team. Beginning in March for an event in June and with a goal of raising 50K, they wondered if anyone would even show up! Much to their delight, people did attend, and they exceeded their goal three-fold with 150K in donations for Children’s Mercy.

Joan Koechner Charboneau joined the team bringing her knowledge of marketing and merchandising, Mandi Rudd brought experience with marketing and publicity, and Mauria Stonestreet, her networking expertise. Today, these women are more than a team that coordinates Big Slick. They are family. Their regard for each other is obvious as is their respect for the talent and hard work that each brings to their immense task. Local family members and those who live out of town all help as they can in the planning and come to KC for the Big Slick event.

Big Slick has grown from a poker tournament and party at Harrahs to a weekend of events around the KC area. On Friday, after a press conference, these five energetic and funny hosts bring laughter, fun and even silliness to a place where children are literally fighting for their lives. And they bring their friends. This year, 25 faces from television and movies volunteered to be in KC and took time away from their own families on Father’s Day weekend to join Big Slick. They shared their smiles, their humor, their compassion and their hugs. They played games, colored pictures, and danced with kids. They sat on their beds, and listened to their stories. The looked into the eyes of tired and frightened parents and let them know that they are not alone. For a moment, machines and tubes and wheelchairs, the trappings of illness, faded into the background, and very sick children got to laugh and feel like celebrities themselves.

“That’s what Big Slick is about…making a difference to families.” — Joan (Koechner)

Friday afternoon included a celebrity softball game at Kauffman Stadium. Kids from Children’s Mercy cheered them on, and some of the Royals came to share in the fun. Everyone watched the Royals play later that night with some of the kids throwing out the first ball, one to each host.

Saturday morning, again the celebrities went to Children’s Mercy. This, all agree, is the high point. Of all of the fun and wonderful events of Big Slick, being with the kids and getting to make them smile and laugh is the best part.

“The 5 hosts are all so sincere about coming back to their hometown. They go to the hospital, visit with the doctors, see the work of the staff and the doctors, and they are humbled. They will say that they get to come in town and have fun, and that it is a privilege to be a part of what Children’s Mercy is accomplishing. And we all feel that, too. We are humbled, truly, by what the hospital does day in and day out.” – Julie (Riggle)

Later Saturday, everyone headed to a Block Party held at Prairie Fire in Leawood. Kids and their families were introduced during their walk on the red carpet, followed by the celebrities. A bowling tournament at Pinstripes followed. Guests made donations for the opportunity to play in the tournament. The day finished with a Victory Party and Auction at the Midland where the majority of the funds were raised as guests bid on items donated by the hosts themselves. It was casual, off the cuff, funny, and involved the audience. Drinks, popcorn and music, along with the antics of the hosts, made for an evening of laughter, and hearing the stories of some of the kids and families helped at Children’s Mercy drove home the mission of the entire event: saving kids’ lives!

Throughout the weekend, while cameras are aimed at the celebs and the children, in the background is this amazing team of women: Julie (Riggle), Mandi (Rudd), Mauria (Stonestreet) and Joan (Koechner), giving attention to the details that make Big Slick happen. For them, it’s “go time.” Weeks and even months before Big Slick, numerous emails, phone calls, and texts have been flying back and forth between them, their jobs taking a back seat. Running errands and meetings have taken the place of cleaning house and carpools. Late night calls have taken the place of sleep. Once, when they found themselves on a conference call at 1am, they remarked that some would find it a very inconvenient or even inappropriate time to have a conversation, but to them, it was just “part of the package” of what they do. They laughingly shared that as the event draws near, they “exist on caffeine, protein bars and apologies to their children.” In reality their families proudly share in the sacrifice it takes to pull off Big Slick.

“I go to all the meetings, help run errands, and I get to be the bat boy during the softball game.” — Henry Arnold (Rudd) 8 yrs. old

For Joan (Koechner), there is a personal connection that also fuels her commitment to Big Slick. Her son, Charlie, has a best friend who battled cancer and was a patient at Children’s Mercy. They know, first hand, the importance of ongoing research and innovative care, so they give back with their time and energy through Big Slick.

“Some think it might be surreal to us to have these brothers who are celebrities. What is surreal to us is when we are sitting with doctors hearing what we’ve done and what that allows them to do to save kids’ lives.” — Joan (Koechner)

While some find satisfaction in power and possessions, Big Slick reveals the power of genuine care and love shown through giving one’s time. It reveals the human connection that comes through shared laughter and smiles. This is evident both at the hospital and in meetings as the sisters run through their ongoing list of things to do. In the midst of difficult discussions and problem solving, there is laughter. These women are in themselves truly funny and laugh easily at themselves and at each other’s antics. Sometimes, the reality of what they are trying to accomplish seems so huge, they just have to laugh in amazement. Other times, it is a funny look or clever quip shared at just the right moment that makes them all bust out laughing. And as easily as they can laugh, they can be brought to tears as they reflect on the lives of patients at Children’s Mercy whom they have personally come to know. They remember battles won and lost and their hearts are deeply touched each time. They share cards and letters received from parents; they recall the names and faces of kids, and their resolve to continue Big Slick is made even stronger.

“What we are working toward is so meaningful. Any time you can help a family with a child who is going through something so difficult, it just makes sense. It’s an injustice not to help when you have the ability to do so.” — Mauria (Stonestreet)

Big Slick has an increasingly significant impact for those at Children’s Mercy. Patients, parents, physicians and staff are all deeply affected by the efforts and intent of Big Slick.

To date, Big Slick has raised over 5 million dollars for the hospital!

“Their impact is profound. They touch these kids’ lives in ways they don’t understand and may never know. It’s immeasurable.” — Michael Artman M.D., chairman of the pediatrics department at Children’s Mercy.

The impact of Big Slick is far reaching. Money raised through the event makes it possible for Children’s Mercy to purchase state of the art equipment that enables the hospital to save more lives. In year five, donations helped the hospital purchase a machine that would detect cancer earlier. Funds have also enabled the hospital to hire staff and attract extremely talented researchers from all over the country. Findings are shared with the medical community around the U.S. enabling other facilities to benefit from the work of Children’s Mercy.

“Big Slick’s contribution in increased exposure for Children’s Mercy — to say nothing of the dollars raised for hospital improvements — can’t be expressed in monetary figures.” — Michael Artman, M.D.

Big Slick is a reminder that everyone has something to share in order to make others’ lives better. The five hosts recognize they cannot do the research or treat children who are ill, but they can lend their names and their influence in a way that enables the hospital to save more lives. Their sisters, brothers, moms and dads can use their skills, experience, time and energy and help the celebs have a greater impact. Kansas Citians can also join the mission and support these children and their families through volunteering and through donations. Everyone can become part of the family of Big Slick.

“Our Big Slick hosts and their families have been such an incredible gift to Children’s Mercy and the patients we serve. These amazing Kansas Citians are using their talents and good fortune to make a real and profound difference in others’ lives. I’ve never seen a more beautiful demonstration of how to handle the responsibility of celebrity with care, grace and humility. Many of the children they visit not only know them as stars from television or the movies – they come to know them as very kind, very funny friends who brighten their stay in the hospital. It’s clear that our Big Slick friends don’t come for recognition; they come to help make an impact and help make children whole again. We are blessed to have them on our side.” — Jenea Oliver, PhD, vice president of philanthropy at Children’s Mercy.


See the full story via Leawood Lifestyle.

Learn more about the events and see photos and video from the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend.

Learn what $1.3 Million means for the Children's Mercy Cancer Center.