The Shadow Buddies Foundation celebrates two milestones as it prepares for its annual fundraising gala.
September 2015 will include a landmark moment for Marty Postlethwait, co-founder and executive director of the Shadow Buddies Foundation: the presentation of the organization’s one millionth Buddy.
When she started Shadow Buddies in 1995, she planned to work on the project part-time and hoped to distribute 20,000 of the stuff friends during her lifetime.
“Never ever would I have thought 1 million would come into play,” she says, adding Shadow Buddies are now distributed in all 50 states and 19 countries. “For me, that’s a big honor.”
In celebration of the foundation’s 20th anniversary, this year all the Buddies are decked out in super hero gear, but for many it’s Postlethwait who has been the hero, giving medically challenged kids—often those in hospitals—a condition-specific stuffed companion that offers comfort by looking just like them, whether they’ve had a lung transplant, tracheotomy, cancer or a cleft palate.
Today there are more than 25 types of Buddies offered, but the endeavor started with a very special request for one from Marty’s son, Miles. Born with multiple congenital heart defects, he was in and out of the hospital throughout his childhood. During a stay at Children’s Mercy, then six-year-old Miles told his mom he wished he had a friend just like him, one that had an ostomy or had heart surgery.
“It wasn’t an imaginary friend; he wanted something tangible,” Marty recounts. “I am not a crafty person, but we sat down with a friend who was a good sewer and we started creating Shadow Buddies.”
Miles designed the face, which still features heart eyes and a smile more than two decades later. (“I remember how the first 10 looked—and how ugly they were,” he says today with a laugh.) While he doesn’t recall the specific conversation that led to the creation of Shadow Buddies, he can still appreciate the significance of having a Buddy to turn to.
“Even though [my friends] were understanding of me going to the hospital and visiting me, you still know deep down none of them can feel what you’re feeling or understand what you’re going through,” Miles says. “For a child to have someone who is just like them or is something they can relate to is pretty important. Obviously I wish I had that when I was younger, but I’m glad that we can do that now.”
One friend Miles did get to grow up with? Tony Gonzalez, former Chiefs tight end (and future Hall of Famer), who got involved with Shadow Buddies during his first season in the NFL.
Marty says Gonzalez was eager to give back to the community and remained a dedicated friend of the family and Shadow Buddies even after leaving Kansas City to play for the Atlanta Falcons and retiring in 2013. The football star also made his mark with Books & Buddies, a program he started with Shadow Buddies that pairs middle-school students with seniors in nursing homes, where the generations can bond and enjoy each other’s company.
It’s one of the many ways Shadow Buddies has expanded its offerings to positively affect a growing number of kids. This year, the foundation sponsored backpacks for more than 1,000 kids with medical challenges or abilities as well as those participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters and other local organizations, funded through money raised during its annual golf tournament.
Shadow Buddies also throws Pink Parties, which offer an opportunity for little girls in the hospital to enjoy a day of pampering with their moms. Then there’s the Holiday Hugs Toy Drive. Running October through December, the foundation works with businesses to set up drop off points for toys around town, distributing them as well as Buddies to 500 kids in crisis in addition to local hospitals and, for the past three years, ReStart.
While some programs receive specific sponsorships, much of Shadow Buddies’ budget comes from fundraising and donations. The Annual Scoring a Victory for Children Gala helps bring in two-thirds of its funds for the year, which in turn helps kids get Buddies.
This year’s event Friday, Sept. 18 at Crown Center’s Exhibit Hall has an anniversary-appropriate Roaring 20s theme. Guests are invited to don their best flapper-era ensembles and enjoy dinner, a program reviewing Shadow Buddies’ accomplishments and the presentation of the MILES Award (Magnificent Individual Lending Extra Smiles), given to a community member, board member or volunteer who goes above and beyond the call of duty as well as dancing, silent and live auctions, raffles and more.
Gonzalez will attend the gala, along with Marty and Miles, who has been working with Shadow Buddies full-time for the past two years, learning the ins and outs from his mother and slowly realizing the impact his childhood request has had on the lives of families the world over.
“When you just see a simple smile on a kid’s face, you think, ‘Oh that’s good,’” he says. “Then when you see the parents crying because their kid hasn’t smiled in so long, then you know you’ve done something that’s affected them.”
Visit shadowbuddies.org for gala tickets ($150) and more information on the foundation, including how to volunteer and donate. –Kelsey Cipolla