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Posted December 6, 2013
Behind the Scenes At the All Children’s Radiothon 2013, Day Two

Down a long corridor from the heart of Radiothon 2013, away from the flow of interviews, applause and ringing phones, a small room moves to a quieter yet equally important beat.

This is pledge central ¬- the place where all the donations are input into laptop programs, tabulated and shared in live-time to All Children's Hospital staffers coordinating the event.

At a table down another long hallway, All Children's Volunteer Services Coordinator Ranetta Sumner checks in the steady flow of helpers who arrive throughout the two days to man the phones.

And in conference room one floor below, those volunteers stop in for a crash course presented by Development Council Coordinator Waleska Lozada in the fine art of pledge-taking over the phone lines.

The work takes place away from the spotlight of the sixth-annual ACH fundraising event but plays an essential role in the success of the operation.

Welcome to behind the scenes of Radiothon, where passion and commitment runs deep even if it's far removed from the action.

Consider the lively volunteer-training crew, comprised of Foundation staffers Lozada, Guild Coordinator Alison Debowsky, Special Events Coordinator Kristin Collis, Special Events Manager Taylor Traviesa and Stewardship Manager Shannon Ahn.

At this particular moment, Lozada - sporting gigantic yellow sunglasses - is giving a playful run-down to a new group of volunteers, demonstrating the best way to take pledges from callers. Ably assisted by Traviesa, wearing a plastic princess crown, she starts off with a trivia quiz with little knick-knack prizes for anyone who knows the year All Children's opened as the American Legion Crippled Children Hospital (answer: 1926) or how many beds All Children's has (259).

Then she gets down the nitty-gritty - every telephone has a script beside it, along with a stack of pledge slips. "The first field asks for their area code and phone number - please repeat their phone number back to them," she stresses. "And please, please, please print legibly. And press hard enough so it goes to all three copies."

Every detail that a caller needs to know is covered: for instance, if a caller says they want to make a pledge but ask to be called back because they're driving. "We tell them, 'Absolutely, we can call you back when you're some place safe."

And so it goes, a crucial job in the Radiothon mix performed with panache by Lozada.

"We try to make the volunteer experience as pleasurable as possible," she says later. "We understand that the volunteers come here because they WANT to be part of Radiothon. They have enthusiasm for the purpose that we have here and come in to help us for two days. We have over 250 volunteers who come in and help manage our phones. So it's really nice to know that these people are coming because they want to be part of something special that we're doing here at All Children's Hospital."

Making the on-the-spot training fun as well as informative is a priority - hence the props and levity that are part of each presentation.

"We try to make as positive for them as we can make it," she says. "But we also feed off of their enthusiasm, because it's an exciting time of the year - it's Radiothon. It's during the holidays. It's a time to see some of these kids that we see every year. It's so fun to see kids like Oliver, Marina and Juniper come back and to see how they've grown and flourished. And our volunteers get to be a part of that as well, because they come back here year after year."

One such volunteer, Janet Lynn of the All Children's Hospital Guild Evening Branch in St. Petersburg, has worked the phones at multiple Radiothons and Telethons and loves the entire experience.

"It's so exciting to hear the phone ring," she says. "A couple of years ago, I had a woman call and she had just won $600 in the lottery the day before. And she donated the entire $600 to the Radiothon. And a phone call I got this morning was from a gentleman who was having difficulty talking. He said that every time he hears a patient being interviewed he starts to cry. His son had open-heart surgery here and his cousin was born at one pound and nine ounces, and is now 20 and doing great."

The caller didn't have a credit card or a bank account. But he still wanted to make a meaningful gesture.

"He told me, 'I'd love to volunteer for the hospital,' " Lynn recalls. "So I took his name and his number so someone could call him back. People don't always have money, so sometimes they give their time. And every person has a story. It's so fulfilling and you don't really realize how what you do can sometimes touch others."

After pledge slips are filled out, they're delivered to the tabulation room at the end of that long hallway outside the bustling Children's Auditorium. That's where ACH Foundation Operations Director Ryan Perry supervises about a half-dozen Foundation staffers and one long-time volunteer, Ann Van Peer. The group's job is to tabulate and input all the amounts, with Perry adding the data to a special spreadsheet program he created, displayed on two adjacent monitors.

"We have a dashboard set up that brakes everything down into easy-to-understand numbers," Perry says. "But basically, this displays how we did last year. When the donations come in, I enter very specific codes pertaining to the amount. Is it a Miracle Maker? Is it a first-time pledge? And the way I've crafted the system is that it automatically performs tasks for us."

The system also updates a web page that displays entries and provides real-time updates to ACH Director of Interactive Services Darrell Lee at his desk in the Radiothon room. In addition, it generates real-time graphs for Stephanie Hall, the ACH Foundation's Director of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and director of the Radiothon and Telethon.

"They know what the numbers and trends are up to the minute of how we're doing, at the same time I'm getting it here," he explains. "We have to be vigilant to make sure that we get the numbers to them in a timely way so they know where they're at."

Perry and his crew can follow the Radiothon action from a live feed on a screen in their room. Though they're separated physically from the action and bursts of emotion, they feel it as deeply as if they were in the room themselves.

"We still get pumped up when we see the dollars coming through," he says. "And they know when we're doing well because their load becomes greater. The excitement is definitely felt back here, too."

And it's felt by Sumner as she checks in volunteers at her desk in the OCC.

"It's so amazing to be part of this," she says. "It never gets old."