The 31st annual Coats for the Children Telethon brought significant changes to the look and feel of the event, due to the move of the WRAL newsroom to Studio A, the previous home of the telethon. The change brought new opportunities with two collection centers, one in Raleigh and one in Durham, and also brought great donations.
“The generosity of the people in our community was on display once again,” said WRAL-TV Local Production Manager Don Ursich, who served as Executive Producer for the telethon for the first time this year. “With their help we were able to raise over $170,000 (and counting) to benefit families through our local branches of the Salvation Army.”
Phyllis Parish had produced the Telethon for the previous three decades and retired in March.
“This event is a big deal,” said Ursich. “Following in the footsteps of a WRAL/CBC legend like Phyllis as Executive Producer is no small task. No one truly understands the amount time effort and coordination that goes into an event like this, until you do it. I was lucky enough to have someone who laid a fantastic foundation for how to execute (and produce) the telethon.”
He continued, “I just wanted to make sure I carried on the tradition and made the lives of people in our area a little better and brighter.”
WRAL-TV Anchor/Reporter Ken Smith served as on-air face of the Durham collection center, the phone bank at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
“The telethon is one of the rewarding events we do as a company,” he said. “The idea that we get to make a difference in the lives of our children, means so much to me. I look forward to the Coats Telethon each year and I was especially pleased to play such a major role from our Durham Phone bank. I think having two phone banks is a great idea. That makes it feel like it’s more of a community wide event. The PNC Triangle Club at the DBAP looked and felt festive, perfect for the occasion. Our volunteers were engaging and gave willingly of their time.”
WRAL-TV Anchor/Reporter Brian Shrader led charge at the Raleigh collection center; a phone bank was located in a conference room in the Capitol Broadcasting Corporate building, across the breezeway from the WRAL studios.
“Coats might be my favorite station event!” he said. “It feels so good to play a role in such a great project.”
He continued, “I think we all were a little anxious to see what it was like moving all of that from big ol’ Studio A into Patio View – but it went really well! A few of the volunteers told me our makeshift studio ‘looked bigger on TV this morning!’ Great job to our team for making it look so good!”
Ursich spoke about the changes of moving from Studio A, where the news set now resides, to two smaller venues.
“Where will we have coats? That was one of two questions I got asked the most when I took on the role,” he said. “We had to reimagine what a ‘phone bank’ style telethon could be in a limited amount of space. We knew the WRAL Western location would be cramped so we scaled it back and looked within the CBC family for a spot to hold half of our phone bank.”
But Ursich and his team saw a silver lining to the new set up.
“With challenges came opportunity,” he explained. “A suggestion that was thrown out as a wildcard turned into a chance to expand the Coats footprint and give Durham a larger stage for our telethon. The Durham Bulls stepped up to the plate to assist us with space, the Salvation Army of Durham was more than willing to help secure volunteers and it was a done deal. Two phone banks, two live shots and a much larger, wider reaching presence for Coats in the community.”
Shrader said that while the locations were new, the things that mattered were consistent.
“While we were in a smaller room this year, one thing about Coats didn’t change – our great volunteers with their great energy!” he said.
Ursich also felt confident to face the challenge of taking on the leadership role for Telethon because of his team.
“Working alongside the group of folks that had been through it all before (News, Production, Engineering, Corp/WRAL Community Relations Director Lorretta Harper-Arnold and the Salvation Army) combined with my solid Local Production team (led by Producer Alison Blevins), it gave me the confidence that we would have a great day and fulfilling experience for everyone involved,” he said.
Urisch and the entire Telethon team came through the event with flying colors. He shared a particularly poignant moment from the day that summed up the generosity of WRAL viewers:
My favorite moment happened at our busiest time as the 7pm special was winding down. A woman that somehow wondered into the building approached me as I was feverishly adding up pledges and told me she had a donation. She only could give one coat (wet from the walk to get into the building) and wanted to give $50. She reached into her pocket and proceed to pull out loose bills (mostly ones) and count them. She hit $49 and then placed four quarters in my hand. She looked as though it was the all she had but wanted to help someone who had nothing. With a lump in my throat and smile on my face I thanked her for giving such a gracious gift and knew THAT was what this event and campaign was all about.
It’s not too late to contribute. WRAL-TV’s Coats for the Children Campaign runs through December 31. Donations can be made by texting “Coats” to 41444 to make a debit/credit card gift of any amount. You can also donate online at WRAL.com or go to the WRAL News App and search the keyword “Coats.” $125 is the “magic number” to completely outfit a child for the winter season. Drop-off coats through Dec 31st as well. Find coat drop-off locations and other campaign details on WRAL.com, as well.