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Community supports CP programs, telethon through pandemic

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Dan “The Turtle Man” Stroobants’s passion for CP and its annual telethon is second to none.

Not many would willingly sport a homemade snapping turtle costume and peruse around Titletown collecting donations – hence the nickname “Dan the Turtleman.”

But for Stroobants it’s the least he can do.

“CP means a lot to me,” he said. “I began dressing up in Packer gear and a snapping turtle shell in the summer/fall and in a coyote hat in the winter. During the home Packer pregame time, about three hours before game time, I walk all around the Titletown District and when people request a picture I ask for a donation. I put on over 18,000 steps.”

Stroobants’s involvement doesn’t stop here.

For years, he has put on his also well-known coyote hat and answers phones as a VIP during the organization’s annual telethon. And this year is no different.

“This is my fifth year participating in the CP Telethon and it’s just something I wanted to do from childhood after seeing it on TV,” he said. “I don’t know if people realize what a wonderful place CP is and how lucky we are to have this gem in our area.”

The nation’s longest-running local telethon hits the airwaves for its 67th year on WBAY, Channel 2 Saturday, March 6 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 7.

With telethon dollars accounting for nearly 20 percent of CP’s operating budget, it was crucial for organizers to figure out a way to continue the tradition amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a long discussion, but in the end the decision was clear, we needed to hold the telethon,” said Kristen Paquet, director of donor engagement and marketing. “The crazy thing is that we were able to hold the telethon as usual last year. It was about four days after the event that it became apparent COVID was going to be a serious issue. We just made it last year and, at the time, we had no idea we’d still have to deal with COVID for the telethon this year, but here we are. So that has meant a lot of planning well ahead of our regular schedule to get the show ready. All we can do is prepare to be as safe as possible, and do all we can to put on a show we can be proud of.”

To adhere to those precautions, the usual packed studio will be quite a bit quieter this year.

“One of our safety protocols is having a limited number of people in the building, so we cut where we needed to in order to help keep everyone safe,” Paquet said. “The only people in the studio for the telethon will be our VIPs answering the phones, our matching sponsors, if they want to join us and staff from CP and WBAY. Just about everything else is being pre-recorded, including client and family interviews, most of the music and other performances.”

Paquet said VIPs will be seated 6 feet apart and everyone will be required to wear a mask, even while on the phone.

“Everyone will get their own bag of supplies and we’ll be sanitizing phone stations in between VIP panels,” she said.

While the format may look a bit different, the mission remains the same.

“CP makes what could be a challenging situation/life better for those involved,” Stroobants said. “They strive to enhance the lives of their clients and their families.”

Funds from the telethon go directly to supporting programs at CP, such as therapy, aquatic exercise, child care and adult day services for people with special needs in Northeast Wisconsin.

“CP is important to me and the need never goes away,” Stroobants said. “When the telethon is over, I’m already looking forward to next year. The financial need is always there. This year is extra challenging. I couldn’t attend the Packer games due to COVID restrictions to raise money the way I normally do.”

Like many other organizations throughout the country, Paquet said CP has felt the strain of the pandemic.

“We shut down for most of March, April and May, but were able to reopen to a smaller number of clients at the end of May,” Paquet said. “We are still working on getting our numbers back up, but it takes time and we want everyone to feel safe coming to CP. We have some pretty strict safety protocols in place.”

Paquet said the support CP and its annual telethon receives from the community year in and year out is nothing short of amazing.

“I think the fact that the telethon has been around for 67 years is unique in its own right,” Paquet said. “But really, the fact the community rallies around CP the first weekend in March every year is pretty amazing. The telethon is a weekend that helps raise funds, but it’s also about CP thanking the community for supporting us all year long. We live in a very giving community with some pretty spectacular people. People who believe in our mission and believe that having a place like CP in the community is good for everyone.”

Stroobants encourages others to get involved.

“Come and get involved because you wouldn’t believe how good it makes you feel,” he said. “Take a chance and make yourself feel great by helping CP and by doing that you are helping others have an easier life.”

More information on CP and the 2021 CP Telethon can be found online at wearecp.org.

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