Sherri Laffey Sarrouf possesses an obscene amount of energy, godly grace and ridiculous strength. She began Fitness for a Cure to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with a simple idea 10 years ago: help raise funds for ill children through exercise. And now, more than $1.2 million raised and counting, that simple idea has exploded and continues to gain momentum capturing the hearts of many along the way. I was honored to photograph this special anniversary gala in Nashua, New Hampshire, last weekend. And in June I will join the Performance Team, documenting their bi-annual trip to St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis.
I got involved three years ago because my stepmother Paula is on the planning committee. Sherri is her aerobics instructor at Gold's Gym in Nashua (and Sherri teaches at the Gold's in Tewskbury, MA, as well). The camaraderie and fun among this group is contagious, and makes me wish I lived closer to see these people on a weekly basis at the gym instead of just yearly at this event.
Their annual show is an all-day affair with a daytime program for children featuring ice cream and face painting, speakers and tributes, and of course the fitness show- a rocking, fast-moving, get-up-and-dance high-energy performance. The evening show is much of the same, only formal, and includes dinner, a silent and a live auction, too. This year's evening show sold out, a whopping 400 tickets. What recession? It was wonderful to see so much warmth and giving to such an extraordinary cause.
Please enjoy a slideshow I put together for the team and St. Jude's below, or click here to view in a separate window.
This is Sherri, seriously one of the most fun, kind people I have ever met.
The day started with ice cream for the wee ones (not so healthy, but very fun to photograph the mess).
These are all the children who raised money for the event on their own by donating their birthday gift money, for instance, or hosting a talent show at their school, etc. How sweet!
Stylists from Cassandra Salon in Nashua cut long ponytails off for Locks of Love.
During the evening show, Sherri's mom received an award. She was shocked, and so touched. Sherri wanted posed photos of all the award recipients and sponsors, but I couldn't resist this sweet emotion from mom.
This is Dwight Tosh, St. Jude's 17th patient, now 60 years old and cancer free for more than 40 years. He gave a moving speech about his memories of the hospital, and how it has affected his life since.
Bill and Nancy Noyes' son Matt, a patient of St. Jude and dear friend to Fitness for a Cure, died of a brain tumor last year. This was an emotional public appearance for them, oy, and where the tissues came out for me. Wow. Matt's story is an incredible one and you can read all about it, his foundation and the work his parents are doing to keep his legacy alive here. If you live in Maine, you should also learn about the work Bill is doing, Dentists With a Dream. Bill is a dentist practicing in Biddeford.
St. Jude board member Camille, and husband of Sherri, addressed the crowd on the numbers, the need and the amazing success stories of the hospital.
There was an incredible silent auction with so many items it required a printed directory to navigate the options.
And of course, there was dancing. Sherri begins each show with a disclaimer: they are not professionally trained dancers, they just like to have a good time. It shows (the latter, not the former)!
There are 75 dancers in the performance team, with ages ranging from first grade children to adults (there are some tots in training, too).
A few facts about St. Jude's:
- The daily operating cost is $1,267,349.00.
- 85.3% of every dollar received goes directly to the hospital.
- St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center where no child is ever denied treatment because of the family's inability to pay.
- St. Jude has developed protocols that have helped push survival rates for childhood cancers from less than 20% to more than 70% overall.