Words by Mary Alayne B. Long
My darling friend Leanne Morgan is likely not a stranger to your home. Currently one of the biggest stars in comedy, she’s pretty darn hard to miss unless you’ve been living under a rock. She is an absolutely delightful, sassy southern lady, and when we are together the laughs keep rolling in. It’s probably best that we are divided by a couple of states, because I’m scared of the trouble we might stir up if we lived next door to each other. And yes—she really is as fun and funny and sweet and kind as you want her to be. I promise.
While Leanne probably hasn’t held court out on your front porch, you’ve likely watched her captivate audiences from her own back patio, or perhaps even from the stage. During the days when we all found ourselves sitting home with nowhere to go and nothing to do, Leanne kept us all going with her regular social media visits straight to our own living rooms. She shared jello salad recipes and talked about her family in a way that made us all feel like they lived right down the street. She kept us laughing until our sides ached—and she never failed to remind us all that everything would be alright.
Now in the middle of a cross country tour (which is no doubt coming to a city near you soon) she graciously took an afternoon to visit with me and to talk about something that is near and dear to her heart—East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
For those of you familiar with Leanne’s act, you may remember hearing her tell a hilarious story about participating in a Dancing With The Stars style competition several years ago. It was that very fundraiser that led her entire family to be involved with Children’s Hospital. As a part of the fundraiser, all of the participants were taken on a tour of the hospital, and Leanne’s soft heart was taken in by all she saw. She was amazed by the care they offered and knew she wanted to help in any way she could.
After that event, Leanne’s middle daughter, Maggie, started to volunteer at the hospital regularly. She would sit with children while they had chemotherapy or give manicures to the little girls who were patients or even do something as simple as sit with them to watch Katy Perry videos. She loved working there so much that she returned after college and now serves as their Annual Giving Officer.
Not long after that DWTS event, Leanne’s husband Chuck felt the call to step in as well. He decided to sign up for one of the most difficult volunteer positions available—cuddling babies. There’s a long process of training and background checks and hoops to jump through, but Chuck was not deterred. For the last ten years he’s gone in every week to hold and rock drug-dependent babies in the NICU, and now he also serves on the Volunteer Board.
So many people think all the work gets paid for by insurance companies or simply from sending out bills to patients—and I know that’s not right. I asked Leanne what she would say to people who don’t understand why hospitals need to raise money and tell us how it all really works.
“East Tennessee Children’s Hospital is completely non-profit. They serve the entire community, and that includes poverty stricken families who can’t pay a dime. They give them the best level of care without leaving them to worry about huge medical bills—and they need different things than regular hospitals. They can’t just have a trauma unit. It has to be a special children’s trauma unit, and those run around $250,000. There’s also been an upsurge in the need for mental health care, and they’re seeing many more children with behavioral issues these days. They do so much important work and it’s all across the board,” she said.
Leanne’s son Charlie and his darling wife Mary have provided the family with their first grandchild. He’s changed everything for everyone, and they all pretty much revolve around him on a daily basis. (I can’t blame them. He’s precious.) Having a new little one to fawn over has made Leanne even more thankful for the work the good people at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital do every single day. She got a little teary when she spoke.
“I am so thankful we never needed to take our children to Children’s Hospital for anything big. Other than my youngest, Tess, having a broken thumb as a child, we were very blessed that our children never needed any type of special medical care. Even with that thumb, a Child Specialist sat and held her hand, read her a book, and kept her calm while it was reset. They cater to children there, and they understand how to help in every way. It’s not a sad place—sure there are sad things and sad times—but in a way, it’s the sweetest place on earth. And now that we have Charles Wilbur (who makes us all feel like it is Christmas every single day) I can’t imagine having to take a little baby to stay in the hospital. God forbid we ever need it, but I know it’s there if we do. The very least I can do for them is help them raise money.”
We talked a bit about social media as well. One only has to click on the app of their choice to see how many negative vibes are out in the world. Leanne and I both like to stick to the positive—there’s much more of that by the way—and to focus on the people who are doing all they can to make the world a happier place.
“I am fifty six years old and I’ve been all over this country, and you know what? I have met people from absolutely everywhere—and it’s like I have a great group of people wherever I go. Social media helped make that happen. I’ve had people send me recipes from all over the country, and I’m thankful that I can talk to people and provide an escape. It’s good to laugh and talk and giggle,” she said.
As our conversation turned to the events of the last two years ,we talked about how everyone is finally getting back to normal. I asked her to share some encouraging words for everyone and she told me, “I raised three children in the foothills of Appalachia, and now I’m on a multi-city tour. If anyone thinks they can’t still live out their dream, they’re wrong. It’s never too late. I was about to think I needed to start stocking bedding at Target or selling popcorn at NASCAR events, but I didn’t give up and here I am. Laughing lifts people’s spirits and I’m so thankful I get to do that every day. It’s my dream job.”
After hours of talking about anything and everything and doing all we could to solve the world’s problems, we decided it all comes down to two simple things: love and laughter. They really are the ties that bind.
You can learn more and donate to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital by visiting etch.com and you can catch Leanne on the road by checking her schedule at www.leannemorgan.com. You can also follow her adventures on social media at @leannemorgancomedy. She’ll make you laugh out loud—I promise. And if you don’t feel led to support East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, watch out. We may show up at your house and roll your yard.
If you are looking for other great people doing great things (and especially those doing great things for children), here’s a list of five non-profit groups that you can’t go wrong with.
Dabo’s All In Foundation - Dabosallinteam.com
Nick’s Kids Foundation - nickskidsfoundation.org
A Team Ministries - Ateamministries.orgBig Oak Ranch - Bigoak.org
Magic Moments - Magicmoments.org