NCVO Radio Telethon is still going strong

In a season awash with high-powered fundraisers, offering big-name speakers and the ubiquitous three-course banquet, it has become increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Though not as glitzy as some, or as high profile as others, one local nonprofit benefit stands head and shoulders above the rest in its decades-long commitment to assisting families and children in need.

As the countdown begins for the National Council of Voluntary Organisations’ 36th Annual Radio/Telethon, scheduled for Saturday, expectations are high that the event will be the biggest and most successful ever.

Life-changing pledges 

Janice Wilson, the NCVO’s chief executive, said, “I would like to encourage the public to dig deep to support the NCVO. Everyone involved in this event is donating their time or expertise so that all funds go exactly where they are needed most: to the children in our community.

“Your money can help to supply a warm bed, comfort and security to a child who has been abused and neglected. It can feed a student who would otherwise go hungry during the school day, and it can provide day care and education to a toddler whose parents need to go out to work in order to provide for them. Every year, the NCVO needs to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue to assist those children and those families. Your contribution, however large or small, does make a difference.”

This year’s NCVO pledge target is $140,000. Although it gets government grants for the running of the Nadine Andreas Foster Home, there is still a significant shortfall in terms of annual expenditure.

According to Wilson, “Over the past 10 years the NCVO Radio/Telethon has raised around CI$1.1 million. We generally collect over 95 percent of what is pledged.”

The event is broadcast live from 7 p.m. to midnight on Cayman 27 and Radio Cayman, and the public is urged to open up their hearts and wallets to donate generously via the organization’s dedicated line (946-6136, available for that night only), or to make online donations and pledges.

For the NCVO, an independent charity dedicated to the care, education and well-being of disadvantaged children and families, its radio/telethon is the highlight of its annual fundraising activities. All money raised from the night provide services, supplies and staff to children’s projects run by the NCVO, which include the Nadine Andreas Foster Home, Miss Nadine’s Pre-School, the Jack & Jill Nursery, Caring Cousins Welfare Fund and the John Gray Fund.

As an added inducement to pledge, viewers and listeners who pledge on the night stand a chance of winning one of more than 50 prizes donated by a host of Cayman’s businesses and private individuals. Prizes include round-trip tickets to New York and Tampa, a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, spa treatments and gift certificates from local hotels, stores and restaurants.

As always, the NCVO is inviting the public to enjoy the free live entertainment at the Prospect Playhouse from 7 p.m. This year’s entertainment lineup spans a range of local talent and includes Trinity and Bona Fide, Gordon Solomon, Gone Country, Ratskyn, Clever Knots, Dominic Wheaton and Teri Quappe.

Arianna Broderick, Nathan Herrera and the Nuevo Mundo trio, Mel Allenger, Williamson Branch, the cast from the musical “Rent,” Joan Miller, Beniel Miller, Barefoot Man and Quincy Brown will also be taking to the stage in a night of pledges interlaced with songs, sketches and stand-up comedy.

NCVO’s past 

The NCVO’s beginnings stretch back 40 years, allowing the organization to justifiably claim the title as the oldest independent, nonprofit, charitable organization in the Cayman Islands. And while many charities, both big and small, have folded in the intervening years, the NCVO has adapted to circumstances to retain the loyalty and trust of the community, earning its reputation as one of the bulwarks of local philanthropy.

Olive Miller, a longtime community altruist, was one of the founding members of the council, originally known as the National Council of Social Services.

Looking back on the setting up of te NCSS’s first radiothon in 1979, the 93-year-old Miller said the annual benefit evolved from the council’s decision to raise its own funds.

Hosted by Radio Cayman’s Doren Miller, the radiothon was studio-based and staffed by volunteers on the phones. The public called in to pledge money and runners were sent to collect from houses in their district by car. In the early days there were no street name signs or private house numbers.

“[The runners] were given what would seem quaint instructions now, along the lines of ‘go half way down Cane Piece [an area near where the Health Services Authority is now] and collect a pledge from Miss Mina, who lives in the pink house on the corner by the guinep tree.’

“Each runner had a receipt book and went from house to house collecting pledges, bringing the money in the next day to the NCSS,” Miller recalled.

A huge success from its inception, the first radiothon raised roughly $2,000 – an impressive amount for the time.

The novelty of the radiothon captured the imagination of a public little used to bold initiatives by such charities as existed at the time in Cayman. The council’s profile, bolstered by its community events, including beach cleanups in each district, was able to capitalize on such support when it came to the annual fundraiser.

The event broadened to become a radio/telethon, albeit held in separate locations when Colin and Joan Wilson opened the CITN television station in September 1992. The Wilsons partnered with NCSS to produce annual telethons and, one month later, the show was the station’s first-ever live broadcast.

Presented by Colin Wilson, Barrie Quappe and Dick Arch and produced by Joan Wilson, the telethons quickly galvanized support and followed the same time-honored format of telephone pledges, with a mix of entertainment segments.

The first telethon featured musicians Sea N’ B, members of the public singing to CDs and even a comic turn by drag queen Peach Blossom (a.k.a Colin Wilson in his first and only television appearance). As this has always been a family affair, Joan Wilson has written and broadcast a telethon poem every year.

“From this point on, pledges were not collected but were sent or phoned in. This brought in a new era, and the event was run on a more professional footing but still with an element of fun,” Wilson said.

Fire Service joins in 

He recalls that the Cayman Islands Fire Service was the first service organization that offered to help, coming into the studio during the first telethon with an impressive check following a collection drive. In time, part of the telethon’s live broadcast included an outside broadcast from a fire truck in central George Town.

He also remembered the firemen’s wheelbarrow race down Cardinall Avenue with two contestants dressed as a mother and baby.

Miller concurred that while the aims of the radiothon were serious, there was always a humorous element to both the radiothons and later, the telethons.

“There would be a singer com[ing] on and afterwards someone would phone in and say ‘I’ll pledge $50 and ask my friend [McKenzie Ebanks] to match it,’” she said.

“We had such fun in the studio. I remember one time when Chris Bowring was there on his keyboard playing music in the intervals and [he] wrote a hilarious song about pledging.”

The NCSS changed its name to the National Council of Voluntary Services in 1990 to avoid the ongoing problem of confusing it with the government Social Services department, and the radio/telethon was adopted as the centerpiece of its revenue raising framework.

Having evolved over time to a charity that focuses on the needs of children in the commu
nity, the NCVO will probably continue to evolve its fundraising format to stay relevant in the future.

For more information or to make a donation to the NCVO in the days leading up to the radio/telethon, contact Janice Wilson at the NCVO office on 949-2124, 525-3976 or [email protected]

Mailed donations in the days leading up to the event should be addressed to Radio/Telethon of the NCVO, P.O. Box 1140, Grand Cayman, KY1-1102. They can also be offered via the NCVO website by hitting the DONATE NOW button 
(please reference the radio/telethon); contacting Wilson directly or by emailing 
[email protected] to arrange making a donation live at the event.


Kevin Morales and Matt Brown share a laugh as telephone volunteers record pledges. – Photo: Ash Sands Photography


The good old days! From left, Iva Good, Richard Arch (past NCVO chairman), Andrea Bothwell and Olive Miller.


Popular band Gone Country entertains at the telethon. – Photo: Ash Sands Photography


Comedian, actor and musical artist Quincy Brown has lent his talents to the cause in the past. – Photo: Carol Winker


Andrel Harris certainly got into the spirit of the event a couple of years ago, with 50 push-ups for a $100 donation. Seems like a fair trade. – Photo: Carol Winker

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now