Sunday, July 6, 2014

Team Panda, or Rallying Support For a Stranger

A Stranger is someone you don't know. 99.9% of the human population is composed of strangers to the average person, and a couple months ago, 17 year old Mariah Boehm and her dad, Tony Pagliocco, were strangers to my world.

A game shop owner by the name of Joel Goggin changed that. Joel is known in the game industry for recently fundraising for Cyril Van Der Haegen, an illustrator fighting cancer. Krab Jab Studio donated a book and a rare Magic: the Gathering artist proof card of mine (a square cornered Clone) to the fundraiser. Joel was patient with my scattered brain at that time - you know how artists can be under stress - and was always polite and generous with praise. Up until this year, Joel was also a Stranger.

Joel made a somewhat startling post in Facebook in early June about a girl named Mariah under surgery at Harborview Trauma Center for a hit-and-run accident in Renton, Washington, only a few minutes drive from Krab Jab Studio. Her dad, Tony, works at Wizards of the Coast and is an avid Magic tournament player.

Okay, stop here and watch this: The Accident

This struck a bunch of chords for me. First, anger at the person who found her texting so compelling she couldn't keep her eyes on the road (we've all been guilty of it at some point but it's getting worse out there). Secondly, the gut-sink feeling of knowing that this girl is going to wake up a paraplegic and she didn't deserve any of this. Finally, the frustration of not hearing about this until a game shop owner from Maine posted about it on Facebook -- a bunch of us connected to Wizards didn't know about it. Where was the Bat Signal???

And finally, it felt oddly familiar to me. The same neurosurgeons from Harborview that worked to piece Mariah's spinal chord back together did the same for me only a few years ago when my spinal stenosis took an aggressive turn and began flattening my spinal chord. Without their swift action to remove two discs and several bone spurs, I would have been in a wheelchair and unable to use my hands. I am forever grateful for getting a second chance to run, kick stuff, and draw.

I also got to experience the odd, horrific gift of partial paralysis while in post surgery, when my brain and spine swelled up and I was rushed to ICU, my right side growing unresponsive, even my face. It was a grim experience I will never forget. I say "gift" because it gave me a 24 hour view of what its like to not be able to control your body, and a new empathy for those who live like this.

Well, a few days after her accident, Mariah awoke to just that, with no feeling in her legs. Personally, my heart broke for the kid.

Her friends and family set up a fund for Mariah, and a hashtag of #TeamPanda was created on Twitter to get the word out. They set goal at $75k... OMG, I thought, that's an undershot. From my own experience, my surgery tallied to over $100k, not counting all the doctor visits, nerve ablations, PT, massage, drugs, and painful injection therapies I've had since then. Even with insurance, the impact this accident will take on her family financially will take much more than $75k to help cushion the blow.

Many folks have rallied around Mariah. Other than just making donations, national fundraisers have sprung up all over the game community, from Magic game tournaments to illustrators creating special artwork for game mats with proceeds going to the family. Panda images sprung up all over the place: Tony's nickname for Mariah is "little panda", hence the reference.
Jeff Miracola's Team Panda Game Mat
I donated money and tried to spread the word, but realized something: even my fabulously famous artist friends are on a budget, and most can offer a few bucks here and there, but not much else. However, all of us have a backlog of art, prints, and game memorabilia, and with the right setting, we could all raise more as a team than individually. After asking permission from Tony (who was introduced to me via Joel) I immediately got on the virtual horn and put a call out for a silent art auction.

Response was immediate, swift, and positive. It wasn't just artists who worked in the fantasy industry; artists from all over responded and sent or dropped off artwork at the gallery. The Georgetown community also responded, and donations from Elysian and Georgetown Breweries were given to the event slated for July 5th, as well as individual donations from merchants and the merchant association. Other local organizations donated tickets, memberships and swag (see our full donor list here).
Ken Meyer, Jr created this panda watercolor for Mariah
One of our biggest supporters of the event was Daniel Chang of Vintage Magic, a company that sells graded Magic cards and memorabilia. He worked with artists Amy Weber and Kev Brockshmidt to come up with very special items for the auction, and contributed to the auction many of the collectible items.
Kev made this especially for Mariah through Vintage Magic
Let me tell you, pulling together a live auction (albeit silent), not to mention an online pre-event auction is no small task. I've worked on fundraisers before - I did many of them with Rat City Rollergirls as well as local charities - and even with a committee, it's time consuming. There's a lot of paperwork, mail handling, emails, form filling, reminders and media stuff. I was really fortunate to have Robyn Baroh lend a hand, as well as Erick Lingbloom, one of our beloved interns. Tony's encouraging messages and the updates on Mariah's recovery also helped me keep a good perspective on everything.
Free Spirit, by Yuko Ishii
We also lucked out on two other additions: Stan! Brown offered to be our Master of Ceremonies at the 11th hour, and Philip Mariconda offered to play live music. Score!! I was terrified to have to MC the thing myself. My musical skills are no better.
Sleeps with Fish, by Michaela Eaves
I have to say, the online auction on FB was the most terrifying part of the entire deal. I literally pulled the whole concept out of my rear, from the rules to how it ran for the 12 hours it was up. I expected it to fall apart and people message me about how cracked it was. I expected collector squabbles. But none of that happened. It was fun, only a couple little blips occurred that were quickly squared away, and most of all, it was a decent success and I was so relieved.

The Auction July 5th was beautiful - all the food from Konami Sushi, the beer from Elysian and Georgetown, the lovely red wines, all the amazing art up on the walls, and the music wafting in the air... Stan was just such a treat to chat with and was great as an MC, and Erick and Robyn pitched in when needed. But having Tony there was the biggest treat. I got a big hug and a huge smile from him, and he was so personable, as if we went way back as old friends. We chatted about Mariah and her love of art, about her steely need to forge ahead with her new normal, and about the beauty of so many Strangers coming together to support a Stranger. Oh yeah, we were total strangers only a few weeks ago...
Tony and Mariah, July 2014
I'm still working through the accounting, which is a good thing. We'll still sell the donated items we have left (which isn't much!) from the event, and I have about a week or so of boxing/shipping to do for out-of-town winners. I'm kind of dizzy from lack of sleep. But I'm thrilled to be of service to something bigger than myself, and to offer my time, my gallery, and my resources to this family and to this girl who is working hard to heal and move ahead, backed by an army of not just strangers, not just supporters, not just her community, but of Friends.

-Julie Baroh, July 2014

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