Cure Kids heroes: Wayne Cafe and Kaye Parker

Several amazing Queenstowners took what had been a poorly-funded Child Health Research Foundation and turned it into New Zealand’s fastest-growing charity, Cure Kids. As it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, PHILIP CHANDLER hails those locals’ contributions, and finds out why it all started with a ski race

It’s rare for a national charity to stage its 50th anniversary bash in Queenstown, as is  happening on Wednesday.

But in the case of Cure Kids — which funds world-leading research into children’s life-threatening illnesses — it’s also very fitting.

Fact is, the charity wouldn’t be what it is today, or even bear its current name, if it hadn’t
been the recipient charity for an endurance ski race first held on Queenstown’s Coronet Peak 21 years ago.

Locals Wayne Cafe, Fraser Skinner and the late Jeff Turner conceived a local version of United States’ renowned 24 Hours of Aspen, after going there to support a New Zealand

The trio convinced former advertising exec Kaye Parker, who’d not been long in Queensown, to help them pitch to Auckland corporates.

‘‘This has got legs,’’ was her response to their proposed 50K of Coronet.

The blokes had determined they’d need a charity — Aspen’s event supported terminally-ill

Cafe had read about the Child Health Research Foundation, while separately Parker had recommended they visit its CEO, whom she knew.

That CEO, admitting his organisation wasn’t well funded, said ‘‘that would be wonderful’’.

By then the charity’s name had been shortened to Child Health, but, thinking that sounded like a government department, Parker got her hubby Michael, fortified by red wine, to think up a new name.

He came up with ‘Cure Kids Charity’, then next day Cafe suggested removing the last word.

After the first race, where her role had been looking after the charity’s child ‘ambassadors’,
Parker became Cure Kids’ fundraising director.

‘‘I said, ‘I’ll give you a couple of days a week’ and I told Michael, ‘if I don’t raise three times my salary’, which was about $20,000, ‘we’ll have to pay it back’.’’

After a successful first year, she was encouraged to go for the departing CEO’s job, which
she then held for the next nine years.

‘‘I ran the show out of Queenstown with the head office in Auckland, and nobody in the  head office ’cos I had to raise money.

‘‘We had less than $300,000 in the bank when I joined, we left it with $25 million.’’

After five editions of 50K, the organisers, who’d been joined by Graham Smolenski, pulled
pin as the workload had got too much.

Still, that event alone had raised $1m, which enabled the charity to set up its first chair, in the form of Otago University professor Stephen Robertson.

Current Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge notes major 50K partners like Compaq and BMW had ‘‘a significant impact on the volume of fundraising’’.

The event had ‘‘catapulted’’ Cure Kids into the future, Cafe says.

And it had made ‘heroes’ of various health-compromised kids named as ambassadors.

‘‘Making them ambassadors changed their personal lives, it gave them a reason to be,’’  Cafe says.

‘‘There were doctors and nurses who said, ‘you’re going to parade those kids up there in front of the public, you’re damaging them for life’.

‘‘I said, ‘you are kidding me’.’’

Asked her motivation, Parker says after getting to know these children, ‘‘I thought, ‘oh my
gosh, how do these parents survive, how do these kids go on knowing their lives are going to be shortened?’

‘‘And I thought, ‘if I can raise some money and help them improve or extend their lives, I’ll
have a go’.’’

Robertson hails ‘‘Kaye’s enthusiasm and vision and those guys’ energy and unstoppability
that took [the charity] to another level, with the kids being the ultimate beneficiaries’’.

He says research funded by Cure Kids has had global as well as NZ benefits.

Benge explains NZ’s Pacific community, in particular, harbours Third World diseases other resource-rich countries don’t have.

‘‘Unless we do the research locally, nobody else is going to do it.’’

Queenstown’s role as Cure Kids’ ‘spiritual home’ has continued down the years with major contributions from the likes of the $10 Challenge, Colliers, Patagonia Chocolates, AJ Hackett Bungy, children’s author John Cushen and the late Sir Eion Edgar.

New Christchurch-based staffer and former Shortland Street TV actor Will Hall has also ensured Queenstown’s role continues to be recognised.

For Benge, having Queenstown host the 50th anniversary function was simply a case of ‘‘let’s take the mountain to Mohammad’’.