The Gift of Life (GOL) Committee of the , chaired by and Penny Potenz Winship, set out a year ago to make a difference in the lives of children with congenital heart defects in developing countries where surgeries are unavailable due to the lack of proper medical equipment or the lack of medical experience in this area of medicine.
Penny, who has directed several theater productions in the area and had her own theater company in New York City, which produced over 30 Off-Off Broadway shows, thought that a “Talent Showcase” would be a great way to raise funds for this life-saving program as well as offering a “fun-raiser” for the entire community.
The committee started their work, spearheaded by Penny, inviting local talent to audition for the chance of , which was held at in June. After , approximately 20 performers were set to grace the stage with their individual talents that included singers, dancers, bands and comedians. Close to 300 people attended the event which was way beyond the expectations of many for a first-time event.
Funds for the event were raised through ticket, tee-shirt and refreshment sales on the night of the event, as well as journal ads, sponsorships, individual donations, and Gift of Life pin and bracelet sales. There was also funding set-aside for the mission in the Rotary Club’s budget.
The goal was to raise $40,000. These dollars would support and send a medical/training mission, assembled by GOL International, to a country in need, where state-of-the-art heart surgeries would be performed on approximately 25 children.
GOL International is an umbrella organization that supports and nurtures the many individual GOL programs around the world. Their purpose includes facilitating the sharing of information between programs around the world and assisting newly formed GOL programs. These programs have sponsored the surgeries of hundreds of children with congenital heart defects, and have helped burgeoning local pediatric cardiothoracic surgery programs advance their expertise.
So, through the hard work of the GOL committee, members of the Rotary Club of the Caldwells as well as through the generosity and participation of the sponsors, donors, volunteers and of course the great performers and their families, the committee met and actually exceeded their monetary goals and happily funded a mission trip from Nov. 5 through 19.
The international Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) assembled an international medical team for this mission. Team members came from Chile, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, including Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and California. The hospital where the team performed operations is Hospital Infantil Universitario Dr. Arturo Grullon. Initial screening of the patients was done by local cardiologist and Rotarian, Dr. Juan Ramirez.
The Rotary Club of the Caldwells and the Gift of life Committee would like to offer their sincere thanks to all who were involved in this effort, including the collective fundraising efforts of club members, donors, sponsors, event attendees, volunteers, local press, James Caldwell High School and the Interact clubs.
And imagine this ... The Rotary Club of the Caldwells that covers the small towns of Caldwell, West Caldwell and Essex Fells in West Essex, New Jersey are the sole sponsors of a pediatric cardiology surgical and training mission that performed life-saving surgeries on dozens of very sick children.
Rotary Club of the Caldwells President Jon Wohlgemuth proudly stated in response to the work of the Committee and the Club, “I am humbled every day by the determination and drive put forth by our Club members and our GOL Committee. From the earliest discussions and plans for the show that started over a year ago to the final act on the night of the show, the GOL Committee never lost sight of their goal and their dream, which was to raise enough money to fund a project to save children’s lives.”
The success of this program reminds us that nothing is beyond our reach when you believe that anything is possible as long as your heart and soul are in it!