By Dustin Turner
The 12 Bands of Christmas fundraiser started in 2001 with a simple concept: Gather 12 local bands to put on an annual Christmas concert and donate the proceeds to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. Joe Stevenson performed in one of the early concerts. He liked the concept and the mission so much that he came onboard in 2003 as executive director and has been leading the organization since.
Though the official name of the organization is 12 Bands of Christmas, Stevenson said that is a little misleading. “These days, we are mostly referred to as 12 Bands. We didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as just a Christmas thing. A lot of people thought we were just a CD of Christmas songs and a concert. They didn’t know about what we do year-round.”
Stevenson said the small organization began with some big ideas: “We started out thinking we were going to save the world and cure cancer, but we realized over time that we needed more tangible things to accomplish our goals. We said, ‘Hey, look, let’s focus on families and not try to set the world on fire. Let’s try to help one patient – one family – at a time.’ It has turned into a really cool thing that is very rewarding at the end of the day.”
As 12 Bands gained experience and narrowed its focus, it received official nonprofit status in 2010. “That was when we really changed dynamic of what we were doing,” Stevenson said.
The nonprofit donates its funds to help Children’s Hospital of Georgia cancer patients and their families with immediate financial needs. “These parents are out of work, taking care of their kids’ needs,” Stevenson explained. “We help with paying bills, whether is it mortgage, power bill or transportation.”
12 Bands doesn’t just donate money to a hospital or bank account and hope it makes a difference. The organization offers direct financial assistance. The process starts when social workers at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia send requests to 12 Bands. “We get a request from the children’s hospital,” Stevenson said. “The social worker says, ‘We have a family that needs a power bill or their mortgage paid.’ We get the bill and pay it directly to the utility company or the mortgage company. At Christmas time, we typically give gift cards so families can go Christmas shopping or even go grocery shopping.”
Even with a focus on helping with immediate financial needs, music is still a very important part of what 12 Bands does. The organization recently partnered with Ronald McDonald House for its monthly 12 Bands 12 Kids effort. Each month, 12 Bands features a patient battling a childhood disease and a local musician who performs at the hospital for the young patients. With the help of sponsors such as The Augusta Chronicle and WRDW-TV Channel 12, they film a segment about that patient that is shared through social media and is played on Channel 12.
“We tell their stories,” Stevenson said. “The featured musician talks about the importance of music in their lives and the importance of being part of 12 Bands and what 12 Bands does. The musicians see what’s going on in these families’ lives. It’s amazing to watch the musician take the family out of what’s going on for a while with music.”
Stevenson doesn’t just sit behind a desk and manage the organization. He enjoys going to perform for the kids, too. “It’s a passion. Once a month, on the second Tuesday, I’ll go and play for whatever patients are there and their families. The cool thing about it is that it takes them out of their ‘new norm’ of doctors and medicine and cancer treatments. We bring shakers and tambourines for them to play along.”
The focus and scope of 12 Bands has evolved in 16 years, but as the holiday season approaches, Christmas music is always on the radar. For several years, 12 Bands has performed as part of the Augusta Christmas Light Up Spectacular. This year, local musicians will perform for 12 Bands as part of Augusta on Ice, which will include an ice-skating rink at Augusta Common.
“We are going to put some local bands out there playing Christmas music, original music and covers just to create the atmosphere and bring awareness to what we are doing. Beasley Broadcasting also has online station dedicated to 12 Bands.”
Despite the 12 Bands of Christmas name, the nonprofit works throughout the year to raise funds for its pediatric patients and their familes.
A new website is in the works to replace the existing 12bands.org. Stevenson plans to put the site to good use by releasing a few Christmas songs that will be available for download in exchange for a donation to 12 Bands.
The nonprofit is planning its fifth annual 12 kids golf tournament for March. In addition, the group raises funds through corporate sponsorships and individual donations. An endowment has been started through the Community Foundation of the CSRA. “The goal is for that to grow and continue generating money for 12 Bands and continue to help families for a very long time,” Stevenson said.
To find out more about the golf tournament, the 12 Bands performance schedule and ways to donate or become a sponsor, email Stevenson at email@example.com or call (706) 664-5595. Find 12 Bands online at 12bands.org or facebook.com/12bands.
Whether it is just Stevenson playing or an official 12 Bands 12 Kids segment, Stevenson finds it very fulfilling to take the young patients and their families on a musical journey away from their daily medical routine. “Any problem you think you might have, well, you realize you don’t have any problems. These kids don’t have a care in the world even though they have EVERY care in the world. You go in and play for the families and the kids, and you see what a difference it makes. It’s life-changing.”
This article appears in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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