With Bert Weiss' Bert Show growing rapidly nationwide and now in 21 cities, he's flying high.
This morning he and his radio team jetted off to Walt Disney World for his 12th annual Bert's Big Adventure with 13 families with kids who are terminally ill or suffering from serious chronic or painful conditions. His non-profit organization hosted a big kick-off party at the Sheraton Gateway near the airport with a blast of balloons, dozens of Disney characters, therapy dogs and a bouncy castle.
This was just a warm up to a four-day getaway at Disney, where they will be treated like VIPs and parents get to enjoy seeing their kids in a happy place outside a hospital. (They arrived today.)
Nachelle Pitts from Baltimore has a six-year-old son Jeryn who suffered a stroke six months ago and was partly paralyzed on his right side. They were nominated by someone at the hospital they used. He has been recovering and can now run around albeit with still limited mobility. "He's improving every day and I'm so grateful he is doing as well as he is so he can take this trip," Nachelle said. "He's my little hero!" Moments later, he tumbles out of the bouncy castle to take a picture. (He technically qualified since Baltimore is close to the D.C. market the Bert Show is heard in.)
Miranda McManus of Charleston, S.C. has an eight year old Conor with neurofibromatosis, which means he has a tendency to get tumors, one of which cost him an eye. He is otherwise in good physical health right now and when he was set to go down the red carpet lineup of Disney characters before entering the plane at the ExpressJet hangar, he sprinted. (You'll be able to see that in the video above.). A Pittsburgh Pirate fan, Conor will also be flown up to Pittsburgh to throw out a first pitch and watch a game behind the dugout.
Stacey Weiss, Bert's wife, has run the non-profit the past 12 years gratis. Fortunately, given the organization's success and growth, she has been able to afford to hire a paid director (Molly Parrish) to manage operations the past four years. She has even added a development director to find grants and sponsors. She is especially grateful to long-time sponsors such as Carter's and Jersey Mike's Subs.
The organization over the years has expanded its reach. It now holds reunion parties for past participants. It also has a Fairy Godmother program so whenever a Bert's Big Adventure kid lands in a hospital, he or she will get visits from volunteers. And on a more somber note, the organization will help with burial and funeral expenses when a child passes.
The 501(c)3 organization raises money and free services from a variety of sponsors and individuals. In its most recently filed form 990 covering 2011, Bert's Big Adventure (which goes by B&S Foundation in official documentation) raised $653,000 in cash and in-kind services.
Going national and opening the applicants to cities where the Bert Show is heard has added a layer of complication. While ExpressJet has been providing a free charter flight to Disney, she would love a national carrier to help them fly the families in who are not from Atlanta. Otherwise, from her perspective, the trip goes smoother each year. For once, she said, she was able to really enjoy the kickoff party.
The Bert Show in the past year has added affiliate radio stations in Salt Lake City, Dallas and D.C., among other cities. It's also heard in Nashville, Indianapolis and Charleston, S.C.
So are they going to fill the empty fourth slot on the show that's been open for more than a year since Jenn Hobby left? Weiss is taking his time, not forcing the issue since he feels the chemistry among the existing trio of him, Kristin Klingshirn and Jeff Dauler is so strong.
Here are some photos from the event: