St. Jude is a great hospital that finds cures for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases through research and treatment. We interviewed our dedicated advisory team member, Dionne Kirschner, to find out more...
Q: Please tell our readers the story of how your grandfather started St. Jude. What motivated him and how did he put his plan into action?
A: The story behind the hospital is an amazing one. In the 30's, my grandfather was a young, struggling comedian and radio actor who did commercials here and there. He was down on his luck and his first child, my aunt Marlo had just been born. He couldn't afford the $75.00 it would take to get the baby and my grandma Rose Marie out of the hospital so he prayed to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of hopeless causes, for a sign, just a sign if he should pursue his dream of being in show business. He vowed that if the saint helped him find his way in life, he would build a shrine to honor him. On the way out of the church, there was a poor box. He only had $7.00 and some change but he put the $7.00 in the poor box and said to the saint, "now I need that back...10 times...tomorrow" to get my family out of the hospital. The very next day, he got a phone call from an agency to do some radio commercials. They said they would pay him $75.00 cash. The hair on the back of his neck stood up as he wondered if this could be the sign he prayed for. That day changed his life. That phone call was the first step to what would ultimately become a celebrated career in show business and thru it all, my grandfather never forgot his vow to St. Jude. In 1962 he opend the doors to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee and they began finding cures and saving lives. He gathered powerful friends and leaders in the community and raised money every day thru word of mouth and by driving door to door with my grandmother in their station wagon asking people to give him money for the hospital he wanted to build. The plan started very small, raising dollar by dollar.
Q: Can you share some of your favorite childhood memories of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I always knew I wanted to have a job where I could organize things. When I was little I used to go to my friends houses and re-organize everything in their rooms. I dreamed I would be an "organizer" of sorts to help people clean out their houses!
Q: How did you get started as a successful producer and when did you first get involved with St. Jude?
A: I started first in the mailroom at Creative Artists Agency when I was 17 years old. I worked there for four summers in a row while I went to college at UCLA. I learned a lot about the television business there and that's where I realized I wanted to get into TV. After I graduated college I entered Creative Artists Agent Training Program and trained for a year. I worked as an assistant to many agents and organized their schedules and made their calls with them and listened in on everything important. I drove scripts to clients and copied movies and distributed them-all over the agency and wrote letters for the agents. When the year was over I decided to try out working on a television production and was lucky enough to get a job as an assistant production coordinator on "The John Larroquette Show" for NBC. The show was at a production company that did a lot of television at the time and I learned there the things that I would carry with me for the rest of my career. I was able to use my organizational skills by overseeing the production staff and crew on the tv show. I did all the paperwork and gave the crew their schedules and learned all the union rules and which crew members belonged to which unions. But mostly I learned how to be a great communicator and a good leader. I learned how to be fair and kind and treat everyone on the production with great respect. Each job on the show is very important and we all work as team members to achieve a great final product...a show that you will enjoy watching! From there I worked my way up the ladder. I was a production coordinator for 3 years and then an associate producer for a year and then a line producer for the last 17 years. Line producers are in charge of hiring the whole staff and crew for a show, budgeting the show properly and working closely with the executive producers to make what they write on paper appear on the screen. The show I am in charge of now is called "The Haunted Hathaways: for Nickelodeon."
I first got involved with St. Jude when I was about your age. We started giving money to a jar at our home for the sick children. I knew my grandfather had started a hospital in Memphis for very very sick children and I was proud to contribute money to them thru the years. When I was in my late teens, I visited the hospital with my family and was overcome with emotion about the work that was being done to help sick children and their families. I was most in awe of the fact that my grandfather's dream was such a beautiful one. It was so selfless and kind that he would dedicate his life to helping hundreds of thousands of children he didn't even know and that the discoveries made at the hospital would last for decades and decades to save lives even after he himself had passed away. I decided after I had my own children that I would give back in a more actualized way. I first started throwing a dinner event in the home of a dear friend to raise money for St. Jude each year. That has been a great success for me. Then I wanted to do more so I came up with an idea that could be grown nationally involving fundraising. Friends of ours had a yearly fundraiser involving yoga. One year they raised all the money that year at their event for St. Jude. So I asked our friends if they would help me organize this event nationally so that on one day each year...tons of Yoga studios could do the same thing. And that event was a great success too. We will do it again this year onJune 14, 2014. Last year I was asked to join the National Committee for the Board of Directors for St. Jude Children's Research Hopsital and I said yes. I visit the hospital each year sometimes more than once. I am so proud of my grandfather and I am proud to be able to be involved with all the incredible people who are so dedicated to eradicating childhood catastrophic diseases.
Q: What motives you and who inspires you?
A: I am motivated by people who overcome great obstacles especially physical handicaps and diseases. I am always inspired by seeing people overcome whatever their greatest fears are and work through them. I love that. I am inspired by the handicapped young man who works downstairs in my office building on a different show. He has a massive physical handicap where he can't walk properly and his body is partially turned sideways and he can't really work with his right hand. He often holds the door open for me and I watch him type really fast with his left hand and he is very hard working and always extremely upbeat. He inspires me. His name is Spencer Hood.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities that you see in the future?
A: I think the biggest challenge for myself is to keep working hard at the same level I have for the last 20 years and to make sure that every job I take in television is with very kind people. I want to make the best choices for whatever is next. I will continue to work with St. Jude and have made St. Jude a very important part of my life. I look forward to creating new campaigns for them and in continuing my yearly National program "Yoga Gives to St. Jude Kids" and my September dinner "Hope for the Children" in honor of my grandfather and my legacy to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Q: What is the best advice that you've ever received and what advice would you like to give to our readers.
A: My best advice is advice that my grandfather gave to my aunt as she was starting her career as a young actress which was: "Run your own race". I always think of that advice. You have to be true to yourself. You are the only one that you have to answer to. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You have to live with all of your own decisions so follow your heart and never compromise your dreams. Believe in yourself and you can do anything... Run your own race!