Story and Photos Courtesy of UMMC
A playground at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s seven-story pediatric expansion will be a reminder of the generosity of two organizations: The Gayle & Tom Benson Charitable Foundation and Sanderson Farms.
On Thursday, UMMC announced a $1 million donation from the foundation to the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, the philanthropic effort to bring the children’s hospital expansion to completion. The gift will also create the Gayle & Tom Benson Charitable Foundation Playground in honor of Sanderson Farms.
“This gift is just phenomenal,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair, professor and chair of pediatrics at UMMC. “Children’s of Mississippi cares about the health and welfare of all of the children in the state, and a big part of children’s health is play. This new playground will give the children who come to our hospital and clinics a space where they can have fun.”
Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, said joining Children’s of Mississippi in the organization’s goal of helping all of the state’s children reach their full potential was a choice she was happy to make, noting the “tremendous support from our teams’ fans in Mississippi.”
Benson chose to honor Sanderson Farms in the naming of the playground because of the dedication of its CEO and board chairman Joe Sanderson Jr. “His dedication to the community and especially its children is truly inspiring,” she said.
In 2016, Sanderson and his wife, Kathy, launched the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi with a $10 million personal gift. The Campaign, which they chair, has raised more than 75 percent of its $100 million goal.
Sanderson Farms is the title sponsor of the Sanderson Farms Championship, held at the Country Club of Jackson earlier this month. Through the PGA TOUR event, more than $6.2 million has been raised to benefit Mississippi’s only children’s hospital since the company’s commitment to the event in 2013.
Sanderson thanked Benson for the gift as well as for her “dedication to the growth and enhancement of the Gulf South region.”
Children’s of Mississippi patients, many of them wearing New Orleans Saints jerseys, and their parents were in attendance at today’s announcement, which included unveiling an architect’s rendering of the playground to be located between the expansion’s outpatient clinic and a new 517-space parking garage.
“A playground is everything to a child,” said Megan Bell of Pearl, whose daughter, Avery, is a Children’s of Mississippi patient. “This incredible gift will make our hospital more enjoyable for patients and families and will make us feel more at home. We are so grateful for the generosity shown to our children today.”
Avery was born with the chromosomal condition Turner’s syndrome, and shortly after her birth in 2009, a congenital heart defect was detected. She had corrective surgery through Children’s of Mississippi when she was a week old, and since then, Children’s specialists have been keeping her healthy.
“Avery is super excited to visit the playground when she comes to the new specialty clinic,” Bell said.
The expansion will include a clinic area for specialists and the Children’s Heart Center, a pediatric imaging center, additional surgical suites and more intensive care rooms. Two floors of the tower will be dedicated to private neonatal intensive care space so families will be able to stay with their babies.
Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi, the arm of UMMC that includes the children’s hospital as well as clinics around the state, said the $180 million expansion is within budget and on schedule to open in fall 2020.