For all Aussie kids to attain their full potential, regardless of ability or background.
To empower Aussie kids who are facing challenges with sickness, disadvantage or through living with a disability to reach their full potential and realise their dreams
Equality – Community – Action – Joy
It all started in October 1927, in a theatre in Pittsbugh USA. One fateful night a group of show business men, known as the Variety Club, gathered for their regular catch up with like-minded friends at the Sheridan Theatre. It was during that meeting that something incredible happened. A young baby was found abandoned in the empty rows of seats. Pinned to her was a note:
“Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show business people and pray to God that you will look after her. Signed, a heartbroken mother.”
Moved by this extraordinary event, these eleven warm hearted men immediately took Catherine into their lives, naming her Catherine Variety Sheridan. Informally adopting her, they raised her alongside of their own families and got to work raising funds to support her upbringing and education. Being from the entertainment world they did what they knew best, put on a rip-roaring event! The men transformed the William Penn Ballroom into a massive circus tent, the legacy of which lives on today, with Variety offices called tents and staff and board being named after circus terms such as the Chief Barker (or Chairman).
The event was so successful and raised so much money that the group decided to help other local children in orphanages or living in poverty.
By now, the story of Catherine was famous, hitting front page news across the world. Giving is contagious, and soon enough entertainers from across the country, and eventually the world, formed their own Variety Clubs, devising their own raucous fundraising events and helping local children in need. This tradition continued and in 1975, the first Variety tent opened in Australia with Paul Hogan at its helm.
Today, Variety – the Children’s Charity has a network of 42 offices in 13 countries, and many millions of individual children, like Catherine, from around the world, live a better life because of the generosity of Variety’s donors, sponsors and supporters.
But what of Catherine? Variety’s founding fathers began to think the huge amount of publicity surrounding Catherine was unfair on her and her development. They simply wanted her to live a normal life. When Catherine turned five, foster parents were selected from more than 300 applicants. Catherine’s name was changed by her new parents, Gladys and Norman Riker, to Joan Riker and Catherine was able to grow up away from Pittsburgh to preserve her anonymity. Her original show business family stayed in touch, secretly visiting her throughout her childhood. Maturing into a strong young woman, Joan married in 1957 and raised her own family, sons Michael and twins Richard and Robert and a daughter, Lisa. Graduating as a nurse from Cornell University in 1951, Catherine/Joan spent a good part of her time proudly working with children.
In a very special moment in 1992, the Chief Barker of Variety International tracked Joan down and – to the delight and overwhelming emotion of staff, volunteers and supporters from across the world – introduced her at a Variety convention.
Catherine/Joan passed away on September 9, 1994 at age 65, but her inspiration and motivation to help children in need burns brightly today through Variety – the Children’s Charity.
The Variety Bash celebrates turning 30, having raised over $200 million for children in need.
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