In the coming days, Branson theater audiences will have a new opportunity to help children in need of pediatric wheelchairs.
This year, the Branson Academy for the Advancement of Music and Theatre began their city wide fundraising effort known as Branson Cares, which benefits Hope Haven International, who builds, delivers and custom fits pediatric wheelchairs for children with disabilities all around the world. To date, 13 Branson theaters, 26 Branson hotels, multiple restaurants, retail locations and two shopping malls have joined BAAMT and their mission to raise funds for the construction and distribution of these wheelchairs.
BAAMT President Bob Nichols shared what they’ve done so far has been considered just phase one of their project.
“The theaters who participate show a video at intermission about the charity that lets them know they can donate in the lobby to build these pediatric wheelchairs and deliver them to children with disabilities,” Nichols said. “We place wheelchairs in the lobby as part of our displays, so that’s phase one. That’s physical presence and that goes on all year.”
Phase two of their fundraising efforts begins this week as participating theaters take part in Red Bucket Week from Monday, Nov. 14 to Sunday, Nov. 20.
“Our shows will make a live mention from the stage that after the show they’ll be in the lobby holding these red buckets for one week only, taking cash donations for the program,” Nichols said. “The way the collections are made, other than the cash donations this week, the lobbies have something called a dip jar and the dip jar…it’s just a credit card slot and you just put your credit card in and pull it back out. You don’t have to touch anything, there’s no buttons and it automatically takes $5. All of our machines in Branson are set for a $5 donation…This is the first time during this first season that we’ve taken cash donations at all.”
The inspiration for Branson’s participation in raising money for Hope Haven International and the creation of Branson Cares can be traced back to Good News Publisher Les Feldman.
“He explained the idea to me, I threw my arms open and welcomed him and the idea,” Nichols said. “It’s perfect for what we’re trying to accomplish as an industry in terms of bringing our group of shows and theaters together for an absolute worthy cause. Through that we increased our comrade as an industry and as we gel and coalesce that’s really the main mission of BAAMT.”
Feldman shared his strong passion for the wheelchair ministry at Hope Haven International is what led him to come to Branson.
“It’s a global ministry and since 1994 has distributed free wheelchairs, over 130,000 free wheelchairs since 1994 to over 105 countries. Branson will hopefully be the city that is at the forefront of a global mission to provide pediatric wheelchairs for children with disabilities all over the world,” Feldman said. “The wheelchairs are made in a prison ministry in Sioux Falls, South Dakota by the inmates by a blueprint design. They would sell for three to five thousand dollars each. We have them made for $275 each. That’s primarily because the inmates only get $0.25 an hour and much of the materials are donated by large corporations.”
Theaters currently participating in the Branson Cares include: Baldknobbers’ Branson Famous Theatre, Copeland Theater, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater home of Legends in Concert, Dutton Family Theater, Freedom Encounter, Grand Country Music Hall, Hughes Brothers Theatre, King’s Castle Theatre, Mansion Theatre for the Performing Arts, Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre, Pierce Arrow Theater, The Tower Theater, and Yakov’s Theatre.
Following Red Bucket Week in Branson, Nichols said they will then begin working on the third phase of their fundraising plan.
“We’ll have the Branson Cares Show at the Baldknobbers Theatre and the participating shows and theaters will each do a couple numbers and we’ll celebrate the successes of our program. To date, Branson collections have already paid to build 58 of these very specialized pediatric wheelchairs,” Nichols said. “Then we’ll celebrate these successes at this Branson Cares Show, as well as use it as kind of a launching point for the new season and our shows can come in early in the year and do a number or two from their new show.”
Feldman said what Branson has already accomplished, Branson Cares can only be attributed as being a God thing.
“God is really orchestrating this to the point that the children desperately need it and Branson is a city that’s embraced that feeling. It’s very, very gratifying to watch how it’s all come together,” Feldman said. “To have sustainability year after year. To allow for the prospect of Branson being the city known all over the world as the city that provides pediatric wheelchairs for children in need is a very, very worthwhile endeavor. Only God could really put it together. All we do is help it along.”
In February of next year, Nichols, his wife and Brandon and Megan Mabe of Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers will be going on a mission trip with Hope Haven International to Mexico to help distribute wheelchairs and see first hand how the process works.