When Y101’s Bob and Bender needed coffee during the 2005 Mississippi Miracles Radiothon at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, they never knew they were launching a new passion for someone who had planned to be a television broadcaster. “I wanted to be the next Melanie Christopher,” says Melanie Schade, the program administrator for Friends of Children’s Hospital. It was after Schade’s first television test at Belhaven University that she says she turned green — and changed her major to radio. Enter an internship at Y101, that radiothon and the realization that her life would never be the same.
Today, on the eight year anniversary of her Radiothon beginnings, Schade says goodbye to the hospital family she has grown to love. She will follow her husband’s passion to fly Black Hawk helicopters all the way to Fort Rucker, Alabama for two years. But, time will tell what’s to come for a self described go-getter who says she’s not the type to just walk away.
Born Melanie Christopher 29 years ago in Texas, Schade met her now husband Justin at Holmes Community College. Belhaven University followed, but that’s where the plot thickened. “I discovered my passion for Batson at a time when most young people could care less,” she says. “They aren’t supposed to think that way. But I didn’t know that.”
Schade recalls camping out day and night for the Radiothon. “I was told I could go home but said ‘No, what else can I do?’, she explains. “I came back all three days, sitting on the phone bank, touring the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And my heart changed.” Schade says she thought it’s where she needed to be. “I couldn’t be a nurse. I hate needles. So, if I can’t be a nurse and save someone that way, I’m going to do my damnedest to raise money and raise awareness and make sure children get the best care they need.”
She went back to Belhaven after the 2005 Miracles Radiothon and told her teachers she wanted to change her major and wanted be at Children’s Hospital. An internship at Batson followed. Her first two projects, that might have taken others weeks to complete, were turned in on the same day. She says “I was fired up to be here.”
When the internship ended, Schade volunteered with a Miracle Home giveaway. At the end, she begged to work at Batson everyday. “I got a phone call two years later on my birthday,” she remembers. “(It was the) best birthday ever. (Batson was) my first job right out of college.”
As program administrator for Friends of Children’s Hospital, the fundraising arm of Batson, Schade answers to 45 board members, coordinates donations and handles events. The dizzying amount of work, she explains, that goes into one event is a full time job and then some. Her husband is a second pair of hands. “He knows my job as well as I do,” she tells us. “At the last Miracle Home giveaway, I gave him his own set of volunteers and his own set of responsibilities.”
Her parents and sister help fold fundraising letters and watch her almost three year-old daughter, Molly Rose, during Schade’s after hours work. And Molly knows well about her mother’s work. “She loves this place,” Schade says. “She knows mommy works at the sun, the rainbow and the kite, thanks to our logo on the building paid for by Friends of Children’s Hospital. And, she sees the doctor and dentist here.”
But Schade’s own family has grown over time to fondly include the patients and their families she has seen over the last eight years. “You get to think of people here as family,” she explains. “In the beginning, it’s daunting” she says of getting to know the families whose lives are affected by illness and disease. “It felt intrusive. But I found out they do want to talk. It helps them.” Schade says she has stayed friends with so many long after they leave Batson. “You stay in touch. Radiothon is like homecoming.”
While the three day event is a celebration, her best moments come at the culmination of every event she helps plan. “Every fundraiser is different and detailed and I love that,” she says. “Seeing it come together and people coming to the event have no idea what goes in to it. And then it goes off without a hitch? You know then that a lot of your own hours and your family’s time has paid off.”
Has her family sacrificed for her labor of love? “I’ve only heard them complain a few times,” she says with a laugh. But now it’s her turn – her turn to sacrifice for her husband. “Justin is the best man I have met in life. I stumbled upon him in college and never let him go.” She says he never wavered in volunteering in what started as a way for him to see his wife.
While his job in sales allowed him flexibility, his new role as an army officer and Black Hawk pilot-in-training means changing life for the family. “I said ‘You’ve allowed me to live my dream and been beside me and behind me,” she tells us. “It’s his turn. It’s something he wants to do and we’re going to do it. It will be a new adventure, so we’ll see where it goes.”
After two years, her husband’s flight plan will bring him back to Jackson as home base for his assignment. For her, there’s wishful thinking toward a perfect scenario for her own plan.Â “In my head, in my dream, I’m gone for two years and then I come back and they say ‘You know what, we need someone else with Friends. You come on back.’ Yeah, that would be my dream.”
What’s the takeaway for Schade? “You can make a difference,” she says. “When I was in college, I thought I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was terrified of my future. Then, I walked in here, and boom, (I think) ‘This is what you are going to do.’ And when you do the things we do here, at end of the day, you’re tired, but you made a difference. If one more person knows about Batson, I made a difference.”