Nintendo vice president named Starlight Citizen of the Year at luncheon

The Starlight Citizen of the Year award was presented to Don James, executive vice president of operations for Redmond-based Nintendo of America, at Starlight Children's Foundation-Washington's annual fundraising luncheon Oct. 18.

Don James

The Starlight Citizen of the Year award was presented to Don James, executive vice president of operations for Redmond-based Nintendo of America, at Starlight Children’s Foundation-Washington’s annual fundraising luncheon Oct. 18.

More than 400 people attended the event at the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, applauding the foundation, also based in Redmond, which gives entertainment to seriously ill children and their families.

Serving 91 hospitals and medical clinics statewide, Starlight Children’s Foundation-Washington has a special friend in Nintendo of America.

Nintendo has, for 19 years, offered Starlight-Washington significant financial and in-kind support including office and warehouse space, graphic design, event leadership, strong employee participation and matching funds.

Thanks to Nintendo and many other donors, Starlight-Washington, during 2009-10, provided more than 243 Great Escape events serving 4,721 medically fragile children and family members, 207 Hospital Happenings events with 15,241 participants and 211 portable Fun Centers with more than 6,000 patient users per month.

The efforts of Starlight are “all about letting kids be kids and letting families be families,” in spite of health crises, explained the luncheon’s Master of Ceremonies, former KOMO weather reporter Todd Johnson.

Johnson, who’s now chief executive officer and executive producer of Point Across Media, as well as a Starlight board member and parent, noted, “There but for the grace of God go I. The coolest thing is to see the look on a kid’s face when the fun center is rolled into a hospital room.”

Equipped with DVD players and Nintendo games, the fun centers “roll right up next to children’s beds and help kids get through the ordeal of medical treatment,” explained Johnson — who then introduced a video message to Don James from movie star Jamie Lee Curtis.

“You are a great man, great father, great husband — and HOT!,” Curtis gushed, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“You’re my hero. I’ll do anything you ask me to do,” Curtis continued.

Johnson teased James, “How much did you have to pay Jamie Lee to say all that?”

The luncheon also honored more than 600 volunteers who gave more than 8,800 hours of service to Starlight-Washington in 2009-10, as well as featuring heartfelt testimonials from parents and kids who’ve benefitted from Starlight programs.

Among the speakers, a Starlight teen, Brianna Naslund, described the isolation she felt when she became ill, how she was able to connect with other hospitalized or homebound teens through Starlight, and how much it meant to her family when Starlight gave them the means to do simple things like going to the zoo.

“When you’re faced with piles of medical bills … or a trip to the zoo, it’s hard to pay,” said Naslund.

Trips to concerts, Mariners games, movie premieres and Ride the Ducks tours are among other gifts given to kids and families whose lives have been turned upside down by terrifying medical diagnoses.

Starlight board member Don Young remarked, “At this very moment, parents all over the region are hearing, ‘I’m so sorry, your child has cancer … cerebral palsy … cystic fibrosis. … Illness doesn’t care how old you are, it doesn’t care if holidays or birthdays are around the corner. We can’t take away the illness or the bad news but we can support them with a lifeline to help them get through. … Help us ease the life-changing blow of serious illness. Help children who have to endure more pain than most of us will know in a lifetime.”

To learn more about Starlight Children’s Foundation-Washington, or make a donation, call (425) 861-7827 or visit www.starlight-washington.org.

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