LAKE WYLIE — Born in a bar and raised on a tip jar, Lake Wylie Children’s Charity isn’t yet old enough to serve itself. But it’s more than able to serve others – one family at a time - thanks to many dedicated volunteers.
T-Bones on the Lake hosted its first child cancer benefit concert in 2003. Organizers, musicians and even the recipient family were employees or close friends of the restaurant. A decade of annual events later and Lake Wylie leukemia patient Luke Moore, 3, will have his day Sept. 23 on the same grounds.
To get there, organizers continue to gather at T-Bones.
“We feel like it’s our responsibility,” said David Mathein, restaurant manager.
It takes more than 80 volunteers to pull the annual concert event together. For months leading up, about 30 people gather at the bar to iron out details about the silent auction, sponsorships, band lineup and advertising. A handful of people work throughout the year on additional events - a golf tournament, a boat “race” and a poker run, which is being held Saturday, Sept. 15.
“It’s always a sprint to the end, but we’re on pace,” said Haven Presley, activities point person.
Presley and Jennifer Joye are originals who still lead the annual charge. Before starting with a local insurance agency, Joye worked at T-Bones and was asked to be the first “event day bean counter.” Now, she spearheads much of what goes on.
“If you are present for just one event and see what it does for a family going through something I could never imagine, then you never want to stop,” she said.
New faces continue to appear, too. Marshall Feimster helped all four years with the Captain Clueless Race for the Cup that boosts the end payday, but is in his second year working on the concert. He handles marketing, social media updates, the event website and similar projects. This year, his task has been rebranding from what has always been called the Justin Mychals Child Cancer Benefit to the now renamed Lake Wylie Children’s Charity. Mychals, a musician at T-Bones when the events began, relocated a couple of years ago.
“It’s been real similar,” Feimster said of concert build-up. “We’ve had quicker response just because everybody’s here.”
Robert and Michelle McBee began donating years ago, and are helping organize this year. They came aboard after meeting Mathein in York at a Summerfest booth for the benefit.
“We thought, ‘Wow, that really takes a good person,’” Michelle McBee said. “I figured if they could do it, I could do it.”
The McBees have three teen daughters, who also are helping the cause by donating toys and sitting in the dunk tanks during the Sept. 23 event. The innovative and personal nature of the benefit is what draws people to it, Robert McBee said.
So much so his wife spent last month’s Summerfest manning the booth.
“It’s very contagious,” he said. “It makes you want to do all you can.”
It’s also effective. So far, 11 children have received more than $300,000 in donations to help offset medical bills or allow parents more time away from work to spend with their children. And Mathein, who also works with a Charlotte bar and live music joint, has no problem booking bands to donate their time and talents.
“All it takes is a phone call, and they’re waiting in line,” he said.
It’s a cause without rivalry. Longtime River Rat restaurateur Al Powell sits among the T-Bones gathering, and Mathein insists Q-2-U BBQ gets credit for “answering the freakin’ bell every time” there’s need. Volunteers and board members include bar staff and a just-retired minister, lifelong boaters and a lake enforcement officer.
Workers throw energy behind volunteer recruitment and event promotion year round. They don’t sweat silent auction items, which invariably arrive in the final two weeks. Watching the weather is a different story.
“We always say a prayer for no rain,” Presley said.
Most of the volunteers are involved in other causes, too, from walking or running in races to hosting a Christmas event months earlier for a child who may not see December.
There are tears shed and jokes cracked. The fall event is a party, but getting there can be a monumental checklist of multimedia tasks, telephone trees, logo printed onesies and sold docking privileges.
Now, there are enough people to take shifts from 7 a.m. to dark so volunteers can also enjoy the main event.
“They really do just want to help,” Presley said. “Without them, it wouldn’t happen.”
It was a typical Wednesday concert planning session last week, until the recipient family arrived. Grown women gushed over Luke and men shook his little hand. He smiled at his own photo on posters. Volunteers reeled off pictures and hugs like he was their own child - which of course, to hear them tell it, he is now.
“It’s just the vision of helping a local family,” Mathein said. “You’ve got to find a way to help out, and this is our way.”
Want to go?
The 2012 Lake Wylie Children’s Charity Concert will be held Sept. 23 near T-Bones on the Lake.
Before the Sept. 23 event, the 2012 LWCC Poker Run will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, with registration beginning at 11 a.m. at Sweetwater Bar & Grill on Charlotte Highway. All vehicles are welcome. Cost is $20 per vehicle and $5 per extra rider. Stops include Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Lake Wylie, McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon in Charlotte, Tavern on the Tracks in Charlotte, Mac’s Speed Shop in Steele Creek and final stop at T-Bones on the Lake.
For more information, visit lkwchildrenscharity.org.