Collins Leads Hootenanny
By Rich McManus
Photos: Bill Branson
On the Front Page...
Combining the high ambition of the Human Genome Project with a critical examination of past NIH giving patterns, NHGRI director Dr. Francis Collins led a spirited kickoff of the annual Combined Federal Campaign on Sept. 30 in the Natcher Bldg. that featured HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, former Washington Redskins Art Monk and Charles Mann, and emotional testimony from two NIH'ers who have known the benefits of CFC in their own lives.
The highlight of the festive noontime ceremony was an audience sing-along with a folk tune penned for the occasion by Collins, who strapped on an acoustic guitar and performed a duet with Shalala on "Sing With Me, for CFC." Gamely wearing official CFC polo shirts, the two romped through several verses (see sidebar) to close the kickoff.
But as light as the ditty was, there was a serious side to the affair: most NIH employees don't give to the CFC, particularly newcomers to the agency, who tend to assume that those with longer tenure and higher grade levels ought to bear the burden of giving, reported Shalala. "The good news is that last year's campaign, under the leadership of Pat Grady of the nursing research institute, set a new NIH record for the CFC, collecting $1,176,346," Collins said. "The bad news is that only 48 percent of employees participated in the campaign. So we set a record by getting more money from fewer people. A major emphasis this year is to reach out to those who didn't participate in the past."
Collins said he was embarrassed to discover that, among all the operating divisions within HHS, NIH finished "dead last" in participation level. He quipped, "Those guys at FDA weren't much better. Still, this doesn't make us feel particularly proud." There is also a wide variation in participation levels across NIH's own institutes and centers, he continued, ranging from a low of 29 percent at one to "an impressive 97 percent at Dr. Harold Slavkin's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research."
Collins urged NIH'ers to apply the same approach to CFC giving as his institute has applied to the genome project. "The Human Genome Project has set explicit, aggressive milestones that we have consistently met or exceeded. We've been successful by establishing very concrete goals, then doing better than we thought we could." Relying on enthusiastic team spirit and hard work, he said, "We've sped up the time table (for completion of the human genome) by 3 years. I'd like to see that whole thing transferred over to the CFC."
Similarly, the sense of altruism that drew many researchers into the field of human health forms a "natural connection with the CFC," he said. Admitting that audiences are tired of hearing his genome mantra "Ahead of schedule and under budget" Collins nevertheless hopes the CFC will end up "ahead of schedule and over budget. Let's get out there and do it. I think we can accomplish great things this year."
NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein called the CFC slogan "Exercise Your Heart Give. It All Comes Back to You" a "wonderful theme because it joins together CFC with NIH's mission of public health." Noting that the human heart beats some 2.5 billion times in an average lifetime "without ever pausing to rest," she urged CFC keyworkers to "work tirelessly, like the heart" to make the campaign a success and "give strength to those who need our hearts."
She introduced Shalala as "the longest-lasting secretary of Health and Human Services, and the finest one we've ever had also the most interested in NIH we've ever had and I've known them all!"
Shalala said she volunteered to President Clinton to run the entire federal CFC for two reasons: "Number one, because I run the best agency in the entire government, and two, even though I'm the longest-lasting HHS secretary, I only have a year and a half left, and I wanted to do something enduring for this community. I really believe in federal workers and the contributions they make to their communities and to charity. More than half the dollars raised for charity in metropolitan Washington each year come from federal workers."
Don Bordine spoke movingly of his son's cancer therapy.
In brief talks, Elizabeth Dean-Clower of NCI, who chairs the employees concerned with disabilities committee, spoke of the value of horseback riding therapy for children, and NHGRI management analyst Don Bordine gave moving testimony about his 11-year-old son Roger's struggle with a rare form of cancer. "There were two emotional lights in the darkness," during his son's grueling 48-month course of therapy, said Bordine, and both relate to CFC: a week-long stay at Camp Fantastic, and a flight by the whole Bordine family to an aircraft carrier so that Roger could steer the ship off the coast of San Diego and see Top Gun pilots land jets aboard the craft; the Make-a-Wish Foundation sponsored that journey. Shalala in particular seemed touched by Bordine's tale of gratitude, and it was up to Collins to tell the story's epilogue: "Roger was treated here at the Clinical Center, and is now disease-free."
Redskin Art Monk, who with teammate Charles Mann signed autographs on everything from T-shirts, to dollar bills, to CFC songsheets for a long line of fans most of them women prior to the program, said NIH could be like the world-champion Super Bowl Redskins of old if employees work hard and dig deep. Noting that the federal CFC goal is $42 million, and HHS's share is $3 million, Monk said, "This is your game, and you are the players you make up the team. You have a fantastic leader in Secretary Shalala. She needs your help so the team can execute what she wants done. I wish you well for this upcoming season."
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