Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 6, 2013

'The heart of Kokomo'

We Care telethon has become cornerstone of community

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — A soldier stopped by WWKI offices this week to drop off a special gift — a flag that flew on a bomber in Afghanistan.

He had just returned from a tour of duty there and wanted to donate a memento from his service to We Care.

He worked with Wounded Warrior Project to make sure it came back to Kokomo.

The soldier wouldn’t give his name, only the gift.

That flag will be auctioned off this weekend during the 48-hour We Care telethon.

“That’s the best thing I’ve seen so far,” volunteer Becky Varnell said.

People from all over the region have been donating items for the auction since Thanksgiving.

There are three new air conditioning units and even a furnace on the auction block. People will be able to buy two carousel horses. We Care will also sell seven Mike Sears paintings. Sears has been a longtime contributor to the auction. He paints pictures on unique canvases like jugs and blocks of wood.

“They go for a lot of money,” Varnell said.

Over the years, people have opened up their hearts and wallets to donate some imaginative items. There have been handmade afghans, original art work, expertly crafted knives, resort vacations, land and even automobiles.

Some gifts, Varnell said, are simple items coming from people who don’t have a lot but want to give. Those are just as valuable.

“It doesn’t matter how big it is, how small it is, how damaged it may be,” she said. “They’re giving from the heart.”

And generous people bid on all of the items. The telethon brings in a lot of money for the Salvation Army, Goodfellows and the Kokomo Rescue Mission, she said.

Last year, it brought in $169,444.53.

Combined with all other money from We Care fundraisers, the organization was able to donate $412,495.34 back to the community last year.

Since 1973, We Care has raised $14.01 million for the Kokomo region.

It doesn’t happen without an army of volunteers, though. More than 700 people from every walk of life give their time to keep the telethon running smoothly.

There are homemakers, secretaries, business owners, elected officials, factory workers and the unemployed.

Some are second and third generation volunteers. Their grandparents started helping out more than 20 years ago, Varnell said.

And it’s not easy work. People lose sleep and disrupt their weekend to do it.

Varnell coordinates the phone operators. Twelve people man the phones in six-hour shifts. Varnell’s shift is just a little longer.

“I leave for maybe four hours during the weekend,” she said. “I have slept in the building under a desk before.”

The WWKI offices are like a small city, bustling with activity all weekend. The garage attached to the building is transformed into the makeshift studio you see on television, Varnell said.

As crazy as it all is, the volunteers love it, she said. It’s become a part of their tradition. Other families have their own traditions. Some gather at one family member’s house to watch the telethon and bid on items they will give away as Christmas gifts.

That’s what We Care is all about, she said.

“We Care is a cornerstone of the community,” she said. “It’s family, the heart of Kokomo.”

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com or via Twitter @LindseyZiliak.

The We Care telethon starts at 6 p.m. tonight and runs for 48 hours straight until 6 p.m. Sunday. You can watch it on Comcast channel 82 or online at wwki.com.