Putting those in need in front row Vector Marketing helps those facing health challenges relax a bit at entertainment events.
By Sally Friedman FOR THE INQUIRER
It began, as so many inspired ideas do, quite by accident.
Jon Vroman was sitting in a back row of the balcony of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center at a pop rock concert featuring Jason Mraz in 2005 when he glanced down at the lucky souls in the front row below.
“I started wondering how people got those seats, and how the front row was actually a symbol of the best of life,” Vroman recalled recently. “I remember leaving that concert and deciding two things: I wanted to live a front-row life – and I wanted to help others do that, too.”
Vroman shared his thought with some close friends, and they joined in his vision. “We were starting our careers; life was good, and we wanted to give back.”
Today, at 32, Vroman, of Blackwood, the national sales promotions manager for Vector Marketing, is doing just that. He is the founder and driving force behind Front Row, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the thrill, energy and spirit of live entertainment for people braving critical health challenges.
The aptly named Front Row is off and running – and so, initially, were its two main founders, Vroman and his close friend Jamie Baugher, a land development investor from Berlin.
“Our first fund-raising effort was actually our decision to get pledges by running in a marathon in November 2005,” Vroman said. “Neither of us had ever done any serious running, but we decided to do a double marathon. It was, I admit, a little crazy.”
But it worked. Vroman and Baugher trained for 16 weeks, ran 53 miles, and raised $7,000 – the seed money for starting and incorporating the Front Row Foundation. A successful 2006 fund-raiser with a live auction raised more.
That year, with a four-person board of directors and a crew of volunteers, Front Row began putting people who needed a lift in their lives on the front row of concerts, ball games, and other places and events that would being them pleasure.
Referrals initially came from a network of friends and associates, and support has come from private individuals and corporate donors, including the Panera Bread chain.
Typical recipients include Melinda Welsh of Collingswood and Peg Rosewitski of Voorhees. Welsh, 21, has been battling cystic fibrosis all her life. She takes large doses of medication and is often hospitalized. Rosewitski has multiple health problems, some of which involve difficulty in maintaining a normal body temperature.
Both women were treated to lavish tailgate parties and front-row seats at a Jimmy Buffett concert at the Tweeter Center in the summer provided by Panera.
So far, Front Row has financed 30 excursions. Referrals now come from organizations such as the Philadelphia chapter of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Kristin Schriks, a manager at the organization, recalls being contacted by Front Row and being moved by its mission.
“One man’s greatest wish was simply to attend a Phillies game with his family. Front Row saw to it that all of them had a perfect day at the ballpark, and it remains a cherished memory for the family,” Schriks said. “It’s a wonderful program.”
For avid Eagles fan Heather Savio of Northfield, a 44-year-old teacher who was diagnosed last year with ovarian and cervical cancer, Front Row was an emotional lifeline.
On Sept. 23, a limousine picked up Savio, her husband, Fred, two children, and sister for the Eagles-Lions game in Philadelphia. “The day was just magical and wonderful. It was a terrific escape for all of us,” said Savio, who is currently in remission and back at work. “When you’re sick, you almost forget that there’s a world out there. My Front Row experience brought us such incredible joy.”
The same delight was expressed by Lauren Clapper of Philadelphia, whose world was shattered when her daughter Sophie Darr was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in November 2006.
Last month, at the Borgata in Atlantic City, Sophie was on the front row of a concert by her personal idol, Kelly Clarkson of American Idol, surrounded by members of her family.
“Sitting on the front row means that you’re right there, that you’re really, truly living life. And in hard times, that means everything!” her mom said.
To learn more about Front Row, call 856-816-6331 or visit www.frontrowfoundation.org.