Variety, the Children's Charity

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Variety - the Children’s Charity is a non-profit organization, chartered by the State of Pennsylvania on October 22, 1928, for the purpose of helping children who live with serious illness, disadvantage or physical/intellectual special needs, empowering them to live, laugh and learn by reaching their full potential. Today, Variety embraces chapters, known as "Tents," in 11 countries and since inception has raised more than one point eight billion dollars ($1,800,000,000)to support an ever increasing number of children with illness, disadvantage or special needs.

Unlike many charitable organisation which focus on a single problem or issue, Variety helps children in multiple areas under four core programs:

Variety Freedom Program: Freedom is the gift of independence, self-esteem, mobility and communication. The Variety Freedom Program provides for mobility, communication devices and independence such as wheelchairs, modified bikes, Liberty Wheelchair Swings* and Sunshine Coaches**. Children with disabilities require highly specialized equipment to help them with their daily lives. Many require mobility assistance so they can gain some independence in their interactions with family and friends. This program provides the equipment to support such needs. Variety Tents fund items such as hoists and positioning systems, walkers, wheelchairs (manual and power), vehicle modifications and human hair suction wigs children with alopecia.

Variety Caring for Kids Program: Caring is the gift of survival, recovery and medical wellness. The Variety Caring Program provides essential medical care and health equipment to care for kids at home, in the community and in hospitals. From providing an insulin pump for an individual child, to financing urgent care equipment, to supporting wings of children’s hospitals, Variety helps out where needs are essential.

Variety Future Kids Program: Future is the gift of education, achievement and experiences. The Variety Future Kids Program helps special needs and disadvantaged children in a number of ways. Funds are provided for equipment that can be used by more than one child, such as computers and educational equipment. Children with cerebral palsy and other conditions often find writing to be a near impossible task. A computer can help transform their classroom experience, academic performance and their overall communication skills.

In addition, equipment is also provided to help special needs children (such as those with autism) communicate with their family and their environment. Children with autism tend to have more success processing information that is presented in a visual rather than verbal format and visual communication devices can make a huge difference in their world.

The Variety Future Kids Program also offers Scholarships. Many of our Tents (chapters) provide educational scholarships to foster talent in sports, drama, music, academia and self-development for children who are sick or disadvantaged. This program also gives the families we serve access to local museums, sporting events, camps, cultural institutions and much more. This program opens up a new world to our special children which expands their imagination and creates positive, lifelong memories. It provides the opportunity for the entire family to explore and share at their own pace. As the needs of the special child oftentimes take much of the resources of the family, Variety believes including the entire family, not just the special child, is essential.

Variety International Children's Fund: International Children's Fund is the gift of clean water, warm clothing and vital medical intervention where needed, including post natural disasters such as earthquakes, Tsunami's and cyclones. Programs are currently run in Haiti, India, Nigeria, East Timor and the Ukraine.


October 10, 1927, was the date for Variety’s opening curtain. On this day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a group of eleven men, all close friends, decided to organize a social club where they could relax after work. For this purpose, a small room was rented in the William Penn Hotel. A decision to call the organization the Variety Club was appropriately made since the members encompassed various areas of show business.

There was no intention of expanding, no thought of inviting additional members, there were no lofty objectives or commitments to an ideal. The cogent force for its existence was friendship. Had it not been for the intervention of fate on Christmas Eve of 1928, Variety International might not exist today. A one month old baby was abandoned that day and left on a seat in the Sheridan Square Theatre with a note pinned to her dress which reads as follows:

"Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show business and pray to God that you will look out for her."

(signed) ‘A Heartbroken Mother’

When all efforts by the police and local newspapers failed to locate the parents, the club members, who included the theatre owner John H. Harris, who subsequently became Variety's first President, decided that the club could act as eleven “godfathers” and underwrite the infant’s support and education.

The child was named Catherine Variety Sheridan, her middle name for the club and her last name for the theatre. The “godfathers” found a new interest in life and were proud that a distraught mother had entrusted her child to show people. The ensuing publicity put the Variety Club of Pittsburgh on the front pages of newspapers across the nation. Other men in show business wanted to help. They asked if they could join and soon the club room was too small.

Before long, Catherine had far too much clothing, layettes and toys – more than any one child could possibly use, thus, other needy children became the beneficiaries of Catherine’s “adoption”. In truth, it was the welfare of this one waif that became the inspiration and motivation for people in show business to band together to help underprivileged and disadvantaged children everywhere.

When Catherine was five, her foster parents were selected from more than 300 applicants in a location away from Pittsburgh and her anonymity was preserved through the years in her best interests. She matured into a fine woman with a family, having served her country as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict and a registered nurse in foreign (public health) service in Vietnam, spending a good part of her time working with children and taking great pride in the fact that she “started it all”.

The nomenclature adopted for the then Club and elective offices stems from the first banquet held by the original Variety Club of Pittsburgh in 1928, when it was one year old. Expecting some 35 persons to attend, they rented a small room in the William Penn Hotel. A few days before the event, it became evident there would be 75 or 80 in attendance. But the only other room available that day was the three story high ballroom which held 1,100 persons. So the Variety guests would not be lost in their surroundings, the Club erected a circus Tent in the ballroom and added circus acts and side shows, peanuts and pink lemonade.

A Pittsburgh newspaper artist, designing the front cover of the menu, made a sketch depicting a typical moustachioed circus barker wearing a red frock coat, plaid vest and high silk hat. The drawing became the official insignia of the then Club and the circus titles were officially adopted by the membership.

Today, the organization embraces Tents (Chapters) in 11 countries and has raised more than one point eight billion dollars ($1,800,000,000) since its inception to support the ever increasing numbers of children with special needs. The vernacular of the circus is still employed in the Variety structure with the clubs called “Tents” and the members “Barkers” ever since the first fundraising affair in Pittsburgh used the circus motif.

To better reflect it's core purpose of helping children, the Variety Club changed its name to Variety - the Children's Charity in 2004 and adopted the "Heart and Hat" logo used today. People from all walks of life with an interest in helping build brighter futures for children can be involved.


The vernacular of the circus is employed in the Variety structure with the Chapters called “Tents” and the members “Barkers.” The Board of Directors of Variety International, their Associations, and Tents, are called “Crews”, as they are relied on to “build” the Tents worldwide.

How Variety raises funds to help children[edit]


Countries with chapters[edit]

To date the organization has grown to include 55 chapters (or "tents" as they are termed by the organization) in 11 countries worldwide, including:

External links[edit]

International Headquarters

North America