On Wednesday (Sept. 13), the Grand Ole Opry celebrated Country Cares for St. Jude Kids with a special show that included performances from Luke Bryan, Charles Esten, Clare Bowen and Randy Owen of Alabama.
The celebration came as Country Cares celebrates its 28th year, something Owen couldn’t be more proud of. Owen started the program back in 1989 after a meeting with St. Jude founder Danny Thomas and has since raised nearly $800 million for the hospital.
“There’s no way I could have ever imagined … I thought a million. Now I’m thinking a billion,” Owen shared. “So I think that’s something that if we get to a billion we’ll all have cigars and a big drink at St Jude.”
Being able to take part in the show that came in the midst of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month was especially important for Esten and Bowen, stars of the CMT hit show Nashville.
“Some of you might know parts of my story. I would not be standing here without everything that organizations like St. Jude does, so I’m just so grateful to be a part of things,” said Bowen, who is a childhood cancer survivor herself. “Then you see St. Jude families sitting in the audience and I know one half of what they’re going through and it’s just so lovely to see. Everybody else is made aware of what they really go through and see, particularly children not treated as an illness, but treated as a people. It’s just hard to put into words how much I love St. Jude and the Opry.”
Echoed Esten, “There’s just something about a hospital that not only welcomes in families and patients and cures them but is also changing the survival rate and is also sharing all that information with everybody else. I don’t know I just think it’s the excellence of the charity and the excellence of the community, tend to join each other up.”
Bryan has been an avid supporter of Country Cares, having visited the hospital for the first time early in his career. The patients he meets during his time at St. Jude always stick with him, including a young girl who was stronger than he ever thought possible.
“Two times ago, probably about 5 years ago, I got to meet this young girl that was in ICU that morning, and I came in to see her that night,” shared the Georgia native. “She had been moved out of ICU into another room, and somebody had asked her, did she want to meet me, and she certainly said yes. I went in there and I just couldn’t imagine that this child was labeled ICU, you know, in the morning, and here she is smiling and I’m walking in the room that evening, so, it’s … that memory of how tough those kids are there. And how resilient and how much they’re fighting will always be on my mind and something I’ll never forget.”
Guests in attendance at Wednesday night’s shows contributed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as $5 from each ticket sold when to the organization that treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Since opening in 1962, St. Jude has helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent today. To learn more about St. Jude or to donate, visit stjude.org.