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Robert Morris
Robert Morris

Rounding up Hope for the Holidays

Dec 01, 2020
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ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE TOBY KEITH FOUNDATION


Toby Keith remembers 2003 as an excruciating year for the family of Scott Webb, the first guitar player in his band.

 

“I watched how he and his wife, Linda, went through their child’s cancer process,” said Keith. “They had so much pain but pushed on with so much dignity.”

 

The Webb’s 2-year-old daughter, Allison, lost her battle with cancer in August of that year. Keith has often talked about the impact of the Webb’s battle and how it has impacted his own generosity toward various causes throughout his life.

 

“My charity donations were really scattered with no sense of purpose or focus,” said Keith. “Then came Ally’s loss. My faith has always shown me the way.”

 

In the wake of the Webb family’s struggle, Keith and his wife, Tricia Covel, locked in on ways to help Oklahoma families with children facing the same medical struggles. The inaugural Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic raised $250,000 for the Ally’s House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists families of pediatric cancer patients in Oklahoma. But as Keith thought about how he could do more, he was struck by Linda Webb’s accounts of the family’s experience at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, where Ally was treated.

 

“She said it was amazing how everything was provided for her,” said Keith. “She showed up with very little and was taken care of.”

 

That sparked an idea that led to the creation of The Toby Keith Foundation in 2006 and plans for constructing the OK Kids Corral. Juliet Nees-Bright, Executive Director of The Toby Keith Foundation, said the Foundation’s vision is to provide a cost-free, convenient and comfortable home for pediatric cancer patients receiving treatment at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, Stephenson Cancer Center, and other nearby facilities. The OK Kids Korral opened for pediatric cancer patients and their families in 2014.

 

“All of the kids and families who stay with us live 30 miles or more outside the metro OKC area,” said Nees-Bright. “We’re two blocks away from the Children’s Hospital, and we love that we’re literally walking distance from where the kids are getting their treatment.”

 

Nees-Bright says you won’t find a lot of facilities around the country like the OK Kids Korral. Everyone involved with the Foundation has worked hard to make the Korral easily accessible to families that come to the Oklahoma City area for pediatric cancer treatment. That ease of access helps offset some of the emotional tolls those families face.

 

“Often, a child will have five days of chemotherapy, for instance,” said Nees-Bright. “So, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense physically, emotionally, or financially for them to travel back-and-forth each day. The OK Kids Korral provides a place where they can check in on Sunday, start their treatments on Monday morning, stay the week, then check out on Friday and head back home to be with their friends and the rest of their family.”

 

Those families find at the OK Kids Corral a comfortable “home away from home” living arrangement that helps ease some of the anxiety of treatments by providing for their needs. The OK Kids Korral features small apartments for the families upstairs, while the downstairs area includes common spaces, an oversized kitchen, a movie theater, and indoor and outdoor playgrounds.

 

All completely free.

 

“It’s a place where they can feel the comfort of home,” said Nees-Bright. “It doesn’t feel like a hospital where they’re confronted with the difficulty of the situation. They’re able to rest, relax, get away from everything without having to worry about finding a hotel or meals.”

 

Funding for the OK Kids Korral comes from donations and various fundraisers. The Toby Keith Foundation sponsors three major fundraising events: the Fish Bowl Bass Fishing Tournament, the Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic, and the Schooner Fall Golf Classic. Nees-Bright says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the Foundation’s fundraising events this year.

 

“Regardless of COVID existing or not, kids still get cancer and need treatment every year,” said Nees-Bright. “The need is always there, and we’ve been open every single day. We appreciate those donors who have stepped up and are continuing to step up, and we want to encourage people to continue to give.”

 

The easiest way to support The Toby Keith Foundation and the OK Kids Korral is to simply visit the foundation’s website at this link: tobykeithfoundation.org/ways-give/gifts-cash. But Nees-Bright says folks can help in more practical ways as well.

 

“If you think about the things you use at home in your daily life, remember that we need those things as well,” said Nees-Bright. “So, if you’re at the grocery store and you can grab some extra cleaning supplies or toilet paper, we’d love to have those. We also have an Amazon Wish List that has a lot of household and cleaning items that you can purchase and have sent to us.”

 

The current pandemic has been challenging for the OK Kids Korral staff on a practical level, but Nees-Bright says everyone has been working hard to elevate the standard of safety at the Korral. This has been particularly important for pediatric cancer patients who have to deal with immune systems that have been compromised by treatment, putting them at greater risk.

 

“So many of our families are already familiar with having to be careful about their child’s health and immune systems,” said Nees-Bright. “We’ve addressed so many of those things already, so it’s a more natural transition for us to include enhanced safety procedures. That’s also why we put a movie theater and playgrounds in the house so that these families have a safe place to go.”

 

The OK Kids Korral staff also got creative for the recent Halloween holiday. They knew that some kids wouldn’t be able to go trick-or-treating this year, so they wanted to do something to benefit those kids in the area. The staff came up with big bags of candy that were passed out.

 

“Our volunteers and supporters filled up these huge bags of candy,” said Nees-Bright. “We gave a full bag of candy to all the kids who drove by, and they almost certainly ended up with more candy than they would have gotten had they actually gone out trick-or-treating.”

 

Even though 2020 had been monumentally challenging, the Toby Keith Foundation and the OK Kids Korral have been able to hang in there and keep providing support for families facing the challenges of pediatric cancer. Keith says he has wonderful memories of growing up in Moore and is privileged to be able to help other Oklahomans.

 

“Moore was a great town for a kid to grow up in,” said Keith. “I’ve ridden my bicycle down those streets a thousand times. I have great memories of playing sports and all my school days, even the tornadoes. I’m so blessed that I feel it’s my place to give back when I can.”

 

For more information on how you can help support the OK Kids Korral and the Toby Keith Foundation, visit tobykeithfoundation.org, email info@tobykeithfoundation.org, or call 405-271-6552.



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