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Joy of giving keeps McGahey family involved in Blue Jean Ball

| Date Posted: 5/27/2010

Blue Jean Ball

The McGahey family enjoys getting together for the Blue Jean Ball each year. Part of the family posed for this photo at a previous event: (from left) Mike Klingenschmidt, Kelli McGahey Klingenschmidt, Jenny McGahey, Gary McGahey, Debbie McGahey and Molly McGahey. Son Michael and his wife, Melissa, were not available for the photo.

PINEHURST – Debbie McGahey learned the joy of giving from her mother. It is a characteristic that she and husband Gary have since passed along to each of their four children.

The McGaheys have embraced the spirit of giving as a tradition – beginning when the children were young and celebrated Christmas by sharing their holiday blessings with those less fortunate and encompassing a seemingly tireless involvement with various local service organizations and activities.

“Because we did things, they started doing things,” Debbie McGahey says of her children and their volunteer efforts. “It’s one of those things they like to do with us.”

On June 5, the McGaheys will be together again, this time for the seventh annual Blue Jean Ball, a fundraiser for the Moore Regional Hospital Foundation’s Cancer CARE Fund. The CARE acronym stands for clinical, advocacy, resources and education, and all of the money raised under its standard stays in the community to benefit local cancer patients.

“Gary and Debbie’s passion for caring and giving continues today with the Blue Jean Ball,” says their friend and fellow Cancer CARE Fund supporter Mike Martin. “Once they commit to something, it’s full speed ahead. And you don’t just see Gary and Debbie; you see the whole family – their adult children, spouses and significant others as well.”

As Gary McGahey recalls, family involvement in local volunteer efforts became especially serious after he became active with the Malcolm Blue Historical Society. Debbie also got involved, and the children followed suit. Everyone pitched in each year when it came time for the Malcolm Blue Farm Festival.

“As somebody got involved in something, it seems like everybody got involved with it,” Gary says. “Everybody volunteers. We’ve just always done that.”

Personal tragedy can often form the core for acts of giving, and the McGaheys have known their share of it. Their son, Timothy, was born with a rare heart defect that ended his life when he was just eight days old. Not long afterward, Debbie took on a volunteer role with Duke Medical Center, and later Rex Hospital, that involved offering support, from the vantage of shared experience, to parents grieving over the loss of a child.

After the family’s move to Pinehurst, she bonded with several other women to form Ended Beginnings, a program of bereavement support for families who have lost a child to death.

“We had all been through it,” she says. “We all had lost a child, and we were united in that way.”

Several years after Timothy’s death, Debbie’s mother succumbed to breast cancer after a long struggle with the disease. Debbie, the youngest in a family of five, and her mother had been especially close.

“She was great,” Debbie says. “Everybody loved my mom. She got me involved in things early on. She taught me how to knit mittens and give them to the needy. That’s how she was.”

When several other members of their extended family, including Gary’s mother, were also diagnosed with cancer, the McGaheys developed an interest in cancer awareness and fundraising. Annual Relay for Life events at Pinecrest High School became annual family affairs.

Like their parents, the McGahey children – Michael, Kelli, Jenny and Molly – formed fundraising teams and encouraged their friends to do the same.

“Now there were a lot of people who helped create the buzz that led to the overall success of Relay for Life, but once the McGaheys got involved, it seemed like the whole high school got on board,” says Mike Martin. “The events grew and grew, year after year. We went from raising about $4,000 from the first event to more than $200,000 in just a few years. It was an amazing experience.”

Tragedy affected the McGaheys’ volunteer experience once again when a teenage boy in the community, a student at Pinecrest High, developed cancer and friends of his family set out to acquire a wheelchair-accessible van for getting him to medical appointments. The McGaheys and others were distressed to learn that, despite their fundraising efforts for organized cancer charities, not a penny was available to help with their local endeavor. The group used other means to get the van for the young man who died soon afterward, and their cause sowed the seeds for the Cancer CARE Fund.

Debbie and others approached the Foundation of FirstHealth to see if some type of fundraising could be done that would assist local patients and their families, and the Cancer CARE Fund was born of their effort. Debbie and Tom Smith, formerly the head of Pharmacy and Oncology Services at Moore Regional Hospital, were the original co-chairs of the Cancer CARE Fund Committee.

The group held its first fundraiser, a silent auction that raised $10,000, during opening events for the new cancer wing at Moore Regional Hospital. The first Blue Jean Ball, a jeans-and-barbecue alternative to the formal Hospital Auxiliary Ball, followed a few years afterward in 2004.

Because of the Blue Jean Ball and numerous community donations, the Cancer CARE Fund has grown exponentially, disbursing nearly $500,000 to help cancer patients in the FirstHealth service area with transportation assistance, medications, nutritional supplements, prostheses, wigs and other treatment-related necessities.

The fund also supports the work of the CARE-Net organization, which pairs specially trained volunteers with cancer patients for support and encouragement.

“Our CARE-Net is huge,” Debbie says. “It’s our one-on-one support, which is so important.”

All of the work of the Cancer CARE Fund is important to the McGahey family whose various members will come from different directions when they gather for the 2010 Blue Jean Ball. Michael is married, to Melissa, and has two daughters of his own. They live in Apex. Kelli, who volunteered with the Ronald McDonald House in Greenville while a student at East Carolina University, teaches 11th grade English at Pinecrest High School. She and husband Mike Klingenschmidt also have a daughter.

Jenny graduated from N.C. State and now works for the USGA. According to her mother, she is “really involved” in the Cancer CARE Fund and helped with the organization of the group’s “Run for the Ribbons” fundraiser during the recent Stoneybrook Steeplechase.  Molly, a UNC-Wilmington grad, is finishing a graduate degree while teaching special education in Raleigh. Her volunteer background includes high school experience with the Key Club and Interact.

In addition to their various volunteer efforts, Gary and Debbie also have busy careers. Gary, an active Rotarian, is a partner in The Insurance Center in Southern Pines, and Debbie is owner/teacher of Learning Tree Preschool.

Both expect that the family tradition of volunteering will eventually filter down to a third generation of McGaheys and their three granddaughters.

“More than likely, they’re not going to have much of a choice,” Gary says. “When we do things, we just tend to do them together.”

As for the Blue Jean Ball, he says, “I’m not involved in it nearly to the extent that Debbie is. She puts her heart and soul into it.”

What: Seventh Annual Blue Jean Ball
When: Saturday, June 5, 6:30 to 11 p.m.
Where: The Fair Barn, Pinehurst
Why: To support the work of the Moore Regional Hospital Foundation’s Cancer CARE Fund, which supports cancer patients and services in the FirstHealth community
Tickets are $60 each, and groups of 10 can reserve a table. All other seating will be open and on a first-come, first-served basic. For reservations or more information, call (910) 695-7510.

FirstHealth employees contribute to event’s success

An annual sell-out, the Blue Jean Ball has been successful because of the hard work and devotion of dozens of volunteers.

Between 15 and 20 FirstHealth employees are usually among that group, doing whatever job is necessary to ensure that those attending the event are well cared for and have a good time. They come from various departments – nursing, clerical, respiratory and Human Resources – and most have been volunteering since the very first Blue Jean Ball seven years ago.

“They usually volunteer because they have had a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer,” says Alice Thomas of Human Resources, who has herself volunteered from the beginning.

Their work is much appreciated. “The Blue Jean Ball really captures the hearts of the FirstHealth family,” says Rebecca Ainslie, director of Hospitality Services for the Foundation of FirstHealth. “Employees in almost every department are witness to the profound effects that the disease of cancer has on each individual patient. The Blue Jean Ball is a fun way to express support and help out, and besides, some of the volunteers are our best dancers!”

A variety of sponsors also contribute to the Blue Jean Ball’s success, and several of them have supported the event from the beginning. Sandhills Emergency Physicians, Pinehurst Medical Clinic, Meadowcreek Tile Co., Harwell Palmer DDS, The Insurance Center and Sandhills Sign Co. comprise that group.

“They’ve been with us every single year,” says event Chair Debbie McGahey.

Other long-time supporters of the event include Healy Wholesale, New Belgium Brewing Co., Talbert’s Barbecue and Catering, The Cowboys and The Sand Band.




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