Zippity Doo Dah Weekend raises funds, fights cancer

Ashley Nolen was leaping about the Kolb’s Dry Cleaning parking lot in Fondren and squealing.

And why shouldn’t she? It’s not every day someone gets to fight childhood cancer and win a Honda Fit at the same time.

Nolen, a Jackson resident with an aging Toyota, bought a $10 ticket from Friends of Children’s Hospital in hopes of winning the car donated by Patty Peck Honda as part of Zippity Doo Dah Weekend.

Funds raised during the weekend’s events went to Friends of Children’s Hospital, an organization that raises funds for Batson Children’s Hospital. This year, the funds are earmarked for a clean room where life-saving treatments can be mixed for patients at the Children’s Cancer Center at the state’s only children’s hospital.

“I love Batson Children’s Hospital,” Nolen said before learning she, as one of 10 key finalists, had chosen the key to unlock her win. “I do anything and everything I can for Batson.”

The Sweet Potato Queen herself and Zippity Doo Dah Parade founder Jill Conner Browne, second from left, stands with her court.Parade founder, author and boss Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne, was on hand to help give away the blue 2016 Fit. “We thank Patty Peck Honda for this incredible donation to Zippity Doo Dah Weekend,” she said, noting their generosity has stretched back to the parade’s beginning six years ago.

“It’s a great time for a great cause,” she said.

A biohazard clean room, the focus of the fun and fundraising, is an enclosed temperature- and humidity-controlled room that’s free of bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, said Dr. Gail Megason, director of the Children’s Cancer Center. That keeps the possibility of infection to a minimum, which is important for young patients whose immune systems are compromised.

Pharmacy technician Sharon Henderson uses the current clean room at UMMC to mix life-saving drugs.
Pharmacy technician Sharon Henderson  (left) uses the current clean room at UMMC to mix life-saving drugs.

“We absolutely want what is best and safest for our patients,” Megason said. “The hospital has one such clean room for chemotherapy preparation, but it is shared by pharmacists mixing these medicines for adults and pediatrics.

“In the Children’s Cancer Center, we have experienced pharmacists who assist us in verifying chemotherapy doses, mixing the appropriate chemotherapy dose and dispensing the medications in a timely manner.  Our children deserve this service in the Children’s Cancer Center.  We are so appreciative that Friends and the Zippity Doo Dah parade will work to ensure quality services continue for our patients.”

Once the clean room is in place, patients “can get their chemotherapy drugs right here, right now,” said Dr. Melissa Rhodes, a pediatric oncologist with the Children’s Cancer Center who spoke during a Friday news conference held at Batson Children’s Hospital.

Saturday’s Zippity Doo Dah Parade, which included the Jackson State University Sonic Boom marching band and the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales, was led by a crew of about 25 volunteer city sweepers, giving away Mardi Gras beads for donations to Friends of Children’s Hospital.

Children's Miracle Network Champion for Mississippi Hannah Dunaway hands out Mardi Gras beads and takes donations at the parade.Among them was Hannah Dunaway, the 2015 Children’s Miracle Network Champion for Mississippi who’s had more than 40 surgeries at Batson Children’s Hospital for her condition, cystic hygroma, which results in benign tumors in her face and upper body.

“I want to give back to Batson Children’s Hospital to thank everyone for all they’ve done for me,” she said while loading her arm with strings of colorful metallic beads.

The events have, over the years, brought in more than $400,000 to Friends of Children’s Hospital, said Tena McKenzie, executive director of the nonprofit group.

Earlier gifts to Friends of Children’s Hospital from Zippity Doo Dah Weekend include a van for palliative care patients at Batson Children’s Hospital, presented in 2014, and, last year, warming beds for babies who are Children’s Heart Center patients.

For restaurateur Jeff Good, the event was all about the kids. As host of the Sal & Mookie’s Street Carnival, Good said the event is a chance to give the kids of Jackson’s Midtown and Fondren neighborhoods a fun day including pizza- and ice cream-eating contests while raising funds for Friends of Children’s Hospital. “We love every part of this largely collective effort,” he said.

Dr. Melissa Rhodes thanks Zippity Doo Dah Weekend organizers for their efforts to fund construction of the clean room.Ellyn Weeks of Oregon and Carol Ewen of Washington state were dolled up in their queenly best at the start of the parade. “We’ve helped raise all kinds of money for Batson Children’s Hospital over the years,” said Weeks.

“It blesses us to be with a great women’s group,” said Ewen, “and we’re blessed to raise money for a wonderful cause while having fun.”

The Mermaid Queens were out, complete with ensembles highlighted with pastel beehive hairdos and light-up starfish crowns, having fun together while helping children. “The children’s hospital patients are so sweet,” said Tamara Welch of Vaiden. “This cause tugs at my heart.”

Dr. Melissa Rhodes (left) thanks Zippity Doo Dah Weekend organizers for their efforts to fund construction of the clean room.