Variety of Eastern Tennessee helps children in need with support from Regal

Although Regal Cinemas has connections with Hollywood, the young people helped through Variety’s local charity chapter are some of Knoxville’s biggest stars.

Variety of Eastern Tennessee, supported by Regal Cinemas and other local supporters, has entered a new era under the leadership of Patty Thewes, who has taken over as executive director to help children with disabilities obtain children’s equipment. mobility they need.

Knox News caught up with Thewes, who took over the role of executive director in June, to discuss what people can expect from Variety going forward.

While starry projections are set to return to Regal Pinnacle in 2022 to raise money for Variety, she said, work continued behind the scenes during the COVID-19 pandemic to make a difference in the lives of people. children of eastern Tennessee and their families.

“Kids – they need to socialize,” Thewes told Knox News. “And with this equipment, it allows them to be included.”

“Children just want to be children”

After being born 29 weeks preterm with the resulting health complications, 9-year-old Skylar Sampson is now non-verbal and non-mobile. His mother, Shannon Sampson, told Knox News that she couldn’t have afforded a suitable tricycle for her son without Kids on the Go! Variety program.

The device helps Skylar strengthen her legs while allowing her mother to steer and control the brakes.

Patty Thewes, who took over as CEO of Variety of Eastern Tennessee in June, attends the association's annual golf tournament in October.  Other events, including the annual film screening which celebrities attend at the Regal Pinnacle, have been put on hold due to COVID-19 but are expected to return in 2022.

“It really tickles him to participate in it,” Sampson said. “He loves being outside. He cries to be outside. He’s going to knock on the door to be outside.”

Skylar attended the annual Variety Golf Tournament fundraiser in October and had the opportunity to play wrestling with University of Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello. Sampson said Vitello even invited Skylar to a Tennessee Smokies game, where he was able to go out onto the field and meet the players.

“Kids just want to be kids,” Thewes said. “We want to help with that. We want to help give them access to everything all children have.”

A charity with the roots of show business

This has been the mission since the 1920s, when the charity began to take shape in Pennsylvania after members of the social group Variety Club heard crying in the auditorium of a Pittsburgh theater.

Members stopped playing cards behind the scenes to investigate and found a one-month-old girl with a note from her mother asking show business workers to take care of the child.

The publicity led to overwhelming support for the child, which led to the establishment of the children’s charity. The charity still maintains its roots in entertainment.

“I actually think helping children is a universal desire,” Thewes said. “It doesn’t matter if someone is in the entertainment industry, in public schools, in any type of organization. I think when you see a child in need, your heart goes to that child, and you want to help as much as possible. ”

Thewes has a background in education and nonprofit work, and she currently coaches cross country at Bearden High School.

Variety’s Eastern Tennessee chapter was also inspired by specific children, whose parents were in the entertainment industry. The chapter began in 2001 with help from Regal and since then has raised over $ 10 million for children in need in eastern Tennessee.

2022: Return to programmed programming

While the golf tournament may have taken place in the fall, other events and programs were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to providing mobility equipment, Variety also has a community grant program that gives money to nonprofits with a similar mission to help children in eastern Tennessee, said. Thewes.

Variety pressed the hiatus on this program to save money, as a good chunk of the charity’s funds come from an entertainment industry that is still feeling the impacts of COVID-19.

Thewes said grant applications would reopen in 2022 with a deadline of March 10.

A celebrity film screening could also return to Regal Pinnacle in the spring, although the fundraising event usually takes place in the fall.

Patrick Wilson visited the theater in 2018 for “Aquaman”, and Dennis Quaid visited the following year for “Midway”. Skylar attended the latter event and got to meet the Golden Globe nominated actor.

Regal and Variety are working with movie studios on screenings to bring stars to the Turkey Creek Theater. The 2022 film and guest will be announced at a later date.

The importance now more than ever

In the meantime, people can visit the Variety of Eastern Tennessee website to donate or learn about volunteer opportunities.

“The pandemic has put another layer on for sure,” Thewes said. “I think it’s so important to get the funding this year… usually because these families are also struggling with the pandemic. They need it more than ever.”

And as life begins to return to normal, it’s especially important for kids to get outside and explore.

The equipment provided by Variety allows them to do this.

“It opens up the world to them,” Thewes said.

Sampson said Skylar is expected to receive a mobile scooter through Variety, which insurance will not cover.

“Variety is one of the best (fundraisers) and charities for children with special needs – for families who can’t afford it,” she said. “They have helped us so much.”

More information about the association is available at

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