Cure Kids stalwart moves on after fundraising millions

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A 12-year involvement with one of New Zealand’s leading charities has left Josie Spillane with a lifetime of personal highlights. 

The Cromwell-based 34-year-old finishes next week as Cure Kids’ fundraising and business development director, proud of her role in helping raise millions for medical research. 

Spillane is moving on to become relationship manager for photocopy firm Ricoh Central Otago. 

After arriving in Queenstown as a “very broke” university student in 2000, Spillane first came across Cure Kids while working at the Heritage hotel. 

The hotel was a sponsor of the 50K endurance ski race – a fundraiser for the former Child Health Research Foundation – and she organised some off-site hospitality for the event. 

Spillane had left to work elsewhere when the hotel boss suggested to the 50K directors that she could be their event manager in 2002. 

“It was the making of me as a relatively naive 22-year-old. I took over as the only paid employee and had 350 volunteers to look after.” 

The event, which ran for five years, raised more than $1 million for the newly-named Cure Kids and endowed a research chair at Otago University. 

After the race was disbanded in 2004, Spillane was given an initial one-year contract by the charity’s original chief executive, Kaye Parker. 

Spillane’s almost lost for words describing her greatest mentor: “She invested so much time and patience and belief in me, she played such a role in where I am today. 

“The biggest lesson she taught me was tenacity and that if you believe in something enough, just keep going – you can make it happen.” 

A bit of luck also helped. 

John Perriam, the owner of Bendigo Station, near Cromwell, had discovered a woolly merino, Shrek, who hadn’t been shorn for six years. Perriam, who’d hosted a mystery weekend for 50K sponsors, offered Shrek – who 
became a worldwide phenomenon – as a fundraising opportunity. 

Spillane: “Next thing you know we were shearing him live on TV and then we were on a plane to meet then-Prime Minister Helen Clark.” 

Spillane recalls schooling up Perriam’s farmhand nicknamed Cage on how to greet the PM. 

“Cage is standing there having a rollie and John goes, ‘Cage, come and meet the PM’, so Cage flicks his butt, pulls his hat off, shakes her hand and says, ‘Nice to meet you Mr President’.” 

Shrek, who even attended Spillane’s wedding, raised more than $200,000 before being put down. 

Spillane will never forget the day she and Parker heard that jeweller Sir Michael Hill was building a golf course on his Arrowtown property: “Kaye and I tootled out to tell him he needed to allow us to hold the very first  tournament on the course – and he did. That raised $300,000 and started us on a journey with Michael that we have to this day.” 

Spillane’s also proud of Cure Kids’ Ticket to Hope weekends – more than 150 sick children and their families have been shouted all-expenses adventure trips to Queenstown. 

Despite shifting office to her home town of Cromwell in 2009, after Parker’s resignation, Spillane insists Queenstown remains at the heart of Cure Kids. 

“There’s so much goodwill for the charity here.” 

The resort will continue to host major fundraisers, she says, including the annual $10 Queens­town Challenge, involving sponsored contestants racing from Auckland to Queenstown on $10. 

Local resident Sophie Newbold, who lives with a rare genetic condition, is also a great ambassador for Cure Kids, Spillane says. 

On frequent commutes to the Auckland head office she takes daughter Georgia, whose day care has been looked after by a Cure Kids ambassador’s family. 

Last year Spillane and Cure Kids’ new chief executive Vicki Lee successfully bid to be the All Blacks’ chosen charity after making a 20-minute pitch to a selection panel. 

“I remember opening with, ‘your passion is rugby and mine is Cure Kids and together we’re going to learn a lot’. It’s a legacy I’m incredibly proud of.” 

Spillane says she’s resigned to achieve a better work/life balance for Georgia, now four, and husband Mitch. 

From raising $450,000 annually, the charity annually now raises $4m-plus a year and has $30m invested in medical research. 

“It’s a massive amount but it’s still not enough because we still have children who are living with cystic fibrosis, leukemia or diabetes. 

“I’ll continue to support Cure Kids – it’s just that I may have to be the one doing the fundraisers instead of  organising them,” Spillane says.