Catherine Variety Sheriden

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

Many moons ago, in the 1920s, during the depressing gloomy era, cries of an abandoned baby echoed through a cold blizzard during the 1928 Christmas Eve, within the empty Sheridan Square Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

However, story of this orphan developed into a fairy tale, which has led to become one of the world's paramount children's charities and developed and expanded globally captivating the imagination of even beyond any other fairy tale through the inspiration and motivation of fellow human beings.

As far back as early 1927, 11 compassionate and generous men in the entertainment field formed a social club and named it as The Variety Club, in recognition of the wide-ranging facets and characteristics of stage performances they represented. Primarily the social club acted as a cynosure for them to meet up and enjoy with concurring colleagues and helpers. The membership of the Variety Club generously assisted the entertainment business colleagues and friends to develop the club towards many other civic organizations.

On the ominous Christmas Eve in 1928, an assembly of show business men were relaxing and playing cards at backstage, after a matinee performance at the Sheridan Square Theatre. Out of the blue, they heard shrieks of a baby emanating from the auditorium. Upon investigation, they were shocked to discover a one-month-old baby girl abandoned by the mother with a desperate note pinned on the baby's apron, which read thus:

"Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on the Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show-business people and pray to God that you will look after her". - Signed - a heartbroken mother.

Desperate efforts to trace the baby's mother failed; the members of the variety club re- christened the child as Catherine Variety Sheridan, as a tribute to the club and the theatre where she was found. Finally, some philanthropists undertook to look after the child's welfare and support her financially for her education etc.

Catherine's amazing and pathetic story captured the hearts of the community when the guardians of the child began to receive more clothes, food, money and toys more than any one child would ever need, which led to a surplus in no time. This made the Variety Club to propose and donate all surpluses to other disadvantaged children, thus laying the foundation for a journey, which has helped the Variety Club to improve the lives of many children along the years.

Since those early days, showbiz traditions have developed extensively in Variety. In 1928 they held their first annual Dinner Ball at a banquet hall in Pittsburgh, wherein a Big Top (circus tent) was erected displaying the iconic Variety logo depicting a top hat siting jauntily atop a big red heart indicating the first 11 thespians in the entertainment business and millions of others who have since volunteered and supported Variety with their generous, kind and big hearts. Subsequently, all branches of 'Variety' continued to be called 'Tents'.

Transformation

Variety, finally transformed into a non- profit making, but simply a charitable organization, and stretched out its tentacles to help locally, seemingly to become a part of an international partnership of chapters, each delivering vital life-saving, life changing and life enriching equipment and services globally, enabling sick, disadvantaged or children who were living with special needs to achieve their full potential and a better future.

Objective

The philosophy behind the Variety Charity is an expansion of their initial belief that 'children deserve a limitless future', whereby increasing the ability and social inclusion for very special and particular children by affording grants and crucial equipment, plus services that deliver health, independence, self-esteem, achievement and dignity. The Variety Charity plays a key role in building a child's capacity and aptitude by changing his/her circumstances and thus reducing the financial burden too on families with a child who is suffering from a serious illness or disability.

Variety is not about research, prevention of crisis or drama, but it aims to help by giving practical help by delivering vital equipment, services and parting with their experiences to children who are sick, disadvantaged or those having to live with special needs.

Sri Lankan Role

A group of philanthropic professionals, with extensive local connections across a broad cross section of the community, cultural and demographic diversity, have formed an enthusiastic Board of Directors and a Membership willing and eager to establish Variety in Sri Lanka and are ready to step in and help children – individually, in groups, in schools and other organizations.

Variety Sri Lanka has been working hard for the past year and has achieved its goal and their launch took place on Sunday 20 November 2016, to coincide with the United Nation's Universal Children's Day and the Variety World Children's Day. For the launching party 100 disadvantaged children and those who need special needs were invited. Variety Sri Lanka would like to sincerely thank its supporters who have been so very quick with positive and generous sponsorship that made this a fantastic day for these very special children.

Variety Sri Lanka aims to deliver on its promise to provide a future without limits for every child, regardless of their background or ability, and to continue to be the most trusted and effective children's charity in the world. They will be committed to empowering Sri Lankan children, who are sick, disadvantaged or live with special needs and endeavouring them to Live, Laugh & Learn.

Variety Sri Lanka has identified specific areas to focus on immediately, and in the future – for example by donating equipment to improve or enable a child's communication, offering experiences that build wonderful memories where, perhaps earlier, there has been pain, providing mobility aids, health, educational or sports grants or to help a child fulfill his/her potential by encouraging and supporting a special talent, tackling malnutrition and alleviating its complications, and working with professionals to check children's vision to identify and treat eye problems. As Variety grows in Sri Lanka it will benefit more and more destitute children.

Global Network

The network of 'Tents' spread into 14 countries (and still keep on growing), and 46,000,000 individual children, to date, around the world, akin to Catherine, live a better life because of

the generosity of Variety's donors, sponsors and supporters.

Unlike most charitable organizations that focus on a specific disease or an area of need, Variety focuses on multiple, unmet needs of the less fortunate children at a local, national and international level. Their aim is to maximize the real, long-term positive social impact for all children without distinction. Variety welcomes the support of any person who shares their ideals and objectives. Funds raised in Sri Lanka will exclusively be utilized for children in Sri Lanka.

All children are special to Variety Charity! They mainly focus on severely disadvantaged children as a priority, which need extra special care and assistance. They believe that 'childhood is the most beautiful of all life's seasons and should never hurt'. To this end Variety endeavours to fulfill the potential of the penurious children while putting broad smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts.

Children of today are the future citizens of a country, as such, disadvantaged or those with severe disabilities need extra help to achieve their full potential, regardless of ability or background. This extra help is possible only with the dedication of volunteers and the support of sponsors, which guarantee the joy and satisfaction out of helping children in need.

Their very first Celebrity Ambassadors, The De Lanerolle Brothers – the fabulous singing duo, who are very committed to Variety Sri Lanka – are helping tremendously in raising the Variety profile and their fund-raising attempts, especially by performing at their main fundraising events.

Variety has its roots in the entertainment industry but its core is the community. People from all walks of life, throughout the country, can contribute and experience the joy of helping children in need by becoming Members, Volunteers, Sponsors and Donors.

Variety has the privilege of being partnered with some amazing establishments in other countries. Iconic brands, and many others, have been working with Variety for decades with the common goal of providing help and hope to children in need. They appeal to any interesting institution in Sri Lanka for the support of Sri Lankan children.

Variety relies on the funds collected from individuals and businesses alike to continue to provide help and hope to less fortunate children all across Sri Lanka. With many major fundraising events planned annually, there will be greater opportunities for businesses to get involved as an event sponsor. Whether a company participates as the main sponsor or partial benefactor, there are many ways to contribute and partner with an event that fits everyone's brand.

Catherine's Fate

When Catherine reached the age of 5, she was fostered out to a carefully selected loving family. Over 300 Pittsburgh families applied to adopt Catherine, whose name was changed to Joan to protect her identity and ensure as normal a life as possible.

Joan had a happy life and served the United States, in Korea and Vietnam as a registered nurse spending much of her life helping disadvantaged children. She remained anonymous until 1980 when, at the request of Variety International, she attended the Variety Convention in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. She died in 1994, but her story will always be a constant memento of the wonderful things that can be achieved when people do care!

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