Folks from Saskatchewan know Telemiracle well – it’s a province-wide annual telethon that raises an immense amount of money for people with special needs. For the past 34 years, it has funded things like medical fees, wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, accessibility modifications in homes and vehicles, and medical travel expenses – all of which would not normally be covered costs for folks in need. It features an ever-changing national cast which has included Johnny Reid, Doc Walker, Paul Brandt, Lisa Brokop, Frank Mills, Alan Thicke and many more. This year it was George Canyon, Canadian Idol’s Carly Rae Jessop & Matt Rapley, Brad Johner, actress Andrea Menard, Sheldon Bergstrom, Donny Parenteau, Sierra Noble, The Northern Pikes, multi Juno-nominated Michael Kaeshammer, and myself. The main co-hosts are Beverly Mahood and Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath, who has been a part of all but one of the 34 annual Telemiracles.
What I didn’t know was that this was going to be much more than a gig. This was going to be a team of national cast members taking live TV viewers through a 20 hour marathon, entertaining through the wee hours of the night with energy and heart alongside local Saskatchewan performers. It was unplanned collaborations on a stage in front of audience members who stayed for the entire telethon…microphones thrust into our hands at the last minute to emcee…a steady stream of thousands of volunteers from all over the province taking over shift after shift of pledge-taking duty on over 100 phones which Saskatchewanians kept ringing constantly for all 20 hours straight with their donations.
I was there to see a $600,000 bequest left entirely to Telemiracle by a Saskatchewan lady farmer and I stood on stage with the rest of the cast, honouring her memory with a few unique minutes of silence…and still the phones kept ringing. I walked among the audience members, shaking hands extended from wheelchairs and reaching out to touch hands that couldn’t reach back, seeing their lips moving along with the song I was singing to them. I sang “The Rainbow Connection” with Bob McGrath, fighting back tears and a flood of memories of watching Sesame Street with my Mom as a little girl. I met a little boy, born with severe club feet, and watched him run across the room in his little sneakers because Telemiracle had paid for the months and years of casting and re-casting it took to correct his legs.
20 hours later, when the balloons and confetti had fallen, the last song had been sung, the troopers in the audience had finally gone home to bed and the cast and volunteers had gone off to party away the last of their adrenaline, I stood for a minute on the stage and stared up at the number on the wall. We had raised over 4 million dollars. 4 million dollars, in a province of only 1 million people.
I feel very blessed that I got to be a part of that.