Melba Gibbs and Sherri Sledd Shed Light on Easter Seals
Bill Bevins and Shelly Perkins interview the two Easter Seals volunteers about the nonprofit and its important annual fundraiser
Community service is a natural for two generous baby boomers, Melba Gibbs and Sherri Sledd. Each woman has a special interest in Easter Seals UCP and its annual fundraising event, Eggstravaganza.
Gibbs has served nonprofit organizations both as a volunteer and as an employee. For 17 years, she championed causes for the homeless, and in 2013 she began working with Easter Seals UCP. Accolades for her work include YWCA Outstanding Woman and a Valentine History Makers award for building stronger communities.
Sherri Sledd has volunteered with Easter Seals for 30 years. She was instrumental in helping to orchestrate the organization’s annual Eggstravaganza in 2001.
Both women continue their support of children with disabilities through their work with the 16th annual Eggstravaganza. They talk with Bill Bevins and Shelly Perkins – who are also both actively engaged in the event – about Easter Seals, its programs and the fundraiser.
Bill Bevins: As we work our way through the dead of winter, we can think about spring and some of the fun things that are going to happen, including one of our favorite things. It is the Eggstravaganza, a big party that our friends from Easter Seals put on every year. We have them with us today, Melba Gibbs and Sherri Sledd. Shelly and I are so excited about Eggstravaganza. What is the date for this year’s party?
Sherri Sledd: It’s March 18th and we’re delighted to have it at Dover Hall.
BB: Back at Dover Hall? Oh, just absolutely amazing! If you’ve ever wanted to hang out and party in a castle, you’ll get your chance. We’ll get to exactly how that’s going to happen in just a moment. Melba, give us a little background history, because I’ve been working with Easter Seals since the 1800s.
Melba Gibbs: The interesting thing about Easter Seals is that it’s a national organization, but it’s been very active throughout the state of Virginia for many, many years, probably about 60-65 years. Easter Seals was started in 1907 in Ohio by a gentleman who had a son that was in a horrible accident. He was a doctor, and he ended up starting the program for children with disabilities and it started to spread. Easter Seals was developed in 1952 nationwide and we picked it up in 1957. Here in Richmond and throughout the state of Virginia, we have been very active with our camps in the Newcastle area near Roanoke – that’s a wonderful summer camp for children ages 6 and older with all types of disabilities.
We have in-home services – early intervention from birth to about 3 years old – to identify what the disabilities are. A lot of parents will tell you, “My child has a problem but we don’t know what that problem is and we can’t diagnose it.” One thing that Easter Seals is very good at is diagnosing and getting those kids going in the right direction.
We also have a wonderful program called AgrAbility. That’s a joint venture with Virginia Tech. When we have farmers throughout the state of Virginia who have injuries on their farm, [for example] if they lose the use of their arm, AgrAbility steps in and helps to adjust their machines or how they work and gets them back into earning their living and continuing with their farming.
BB: Kind of like we adapted cars years ago and now we’re doing it with tractors and farm equipment?
MG: Exactly. We’re very fortunate to have a program in Charlottesville and in Northern Virginia, the Reach program, intervention for people 18 years old and older that have severe mental health issues or challenges and need stabilization. They can come in for two to three weeks and get stabilized.
Shelly Perkins: I know this is a very big year, a big anniversary and that’s really going to be reflected through this year’s Eggstravaganza.
SS: Yes, it is. We’re excited to be celebrating 60 years for Camp Easter Seals and the services they’ve provided. We’re going with the camp theme this year at the event, inviting people to dress in black tie/creative camp attire. We’re going to feature that in the menu and the décor and in the activities. We’re also going to have a band and dancing in addition to the auction and the other types of fun activities.
SP: Bill will want to know if you’re doing s’mores.
SS: Absolutely! There are going to be gourmet s’mores and gourmet hot dogs. Mosaic always does a great job for us.
SP: Bill has been hosting this event for many, many years. I think decades at this point, and I have the pleasure of being involved as well now. How can people get tickets to Eggstravaganza to raise money for camps for kids who need it?
MG: The website is simply EasterSealsUCP.com: how you can support us, events and how to contact us.
BB: And the UCP is for?
MG: United Cerebral Palsy.
BB:Because you guys teamed up a couple of years ago.
MG: We did. Several years ago we teamed up in North Carolina and Virginia to work with UCP.
BB: I guess I’m going to be wearing my camping outfits this year at Dover Hall.
MG: You don’t even have to shave! [Everyone laughs]
BB: I don’t do that anyway! It is a great fundraiser. It is a lot of fun at Dover Hall. Shelly and I look forward to it every single year. Of course, we hear the stories about the families that are helped, too, and there’s the payoff right there.
SS: It’s a wonderful time to reach out to those with disabilities. One of the things that I found after I got into Easter Seals, because I used to volunteer heavily through my junior woman’s club years ago when I was young – don’t say anything, Bill!
BB: I’m not saying anything – I was there, too, you know!
SS: I know you were!
MG: I [didn’t know this before, but] one in four individuals with a disability lives in or on the poverty line – therefore, if they don’t have the waivers for services for their children through government entities then they can’t afford to send their kids to camp. Our Easter Seals Eggstravaganza provides services throughout the state and scholarships to send kids for a week at camp. The parents can come up sometimes for respite weeks or respite weekends, and that means they can leave their child with a disability with us and we take care of that child. Parents can take the siblings into Luray Caverns and through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
BB: Our very special guests, Melba Gibbs and Sherri Sledd, the ladies who have worked so hard over the years to make sure that people who have some very special needs get those needs met through Easter Seals UCP. We have coming up on March 18th, the Easter Seals Eggstravaganza. Shelly and I will be part of it and we wanted you to know about it. Thank you, ladies.
MG: We want to express our appreciation to both of you for your continued support with us and Easter Seals and our Eggstravaganza. Thank you, guys.