Rootin' for Regen continues to gather incredible support

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:30 AM

Regen Morris, a 12-year-old Pi Beta Phi Elementary School student who has been in hospitals since Nov. 5, 2012, after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called anaplastic astrocytoma, has gained unprecedented support during a very uncertain time in his and his family's life.

The support has flown under the "Rootin' for Regen" slogan, the decal for the website and Facebook page created for Regen. The slogan is now seen all across the county on banners, T-shirts, bracelets and more, and the Facebook group has almost 33,000 followers. Fundraisers have been organized since December to raise money for the family, with businesses, restaurants and individuals alike coming to the fore to help out a child in need.

"We're basically just trying to help the family out while they're going through hard times and difficult situations," said Gatlinburg Police Department (GPD) Lieutenant Terri Stines, who organized a spaghetti dinner and silent auction fundraiser along with GPD Officer Ronnie France, independent of the police department. "This is just a bunch of friends who have organized it together. The son goes to Pi Beta Phi and the dad is a teacher there, so we felt it was something the community could come together to assist them with."

The dinner and auction will be held Feb. 6 from 4-8 p.m. at the Calhoun's Banquet and Catering hall in Gatlinburg. Tickets are $5, but parking is free. All proceeds will go towards Regen and his family.

Julie Rhines, general manager with Smoky Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg, said the spaghetti dinner fundraiser has already received a lot of positive feedback.

"We just started selling tickets Wednesday and only had 500 printed, but I think we may need to get some more, which is a great thing," Rhines said.

Another upcoming fundraiser, to be held Feb. 22 at the River Plantation Conference Center in Sevierville, puts a spin on the familiar slogan.

Dancin' for Regen, as the name suggests, will feature music and dancing, as well as food and games for kids, all for a $10 donation at the door. Spearheaded by couple Ron Crivellone and Ellen Coe, the idea for the event began when they attended a different Rootin' for Regen fundraiser.

"We were at the Rootin' for Regen at Chick-fil-A and we wanted to continue support," Coe said. "I figured this is what we could do to step up to the plate and help him and his family."

Crivellone, a full-time DJ, will be providing the musical entertainment.

"He loves making people happy and he thought this was a great idea too," Coe said of her fiancée. "It's just going to be a fun, family atmosphere."

Coe said they're currently looking for a photo booth for the fundraiser, so they can put together an instant scrapbook for Regen. But if they don't find one, they've still booked photographer Rich Blessings so they can create a scrapbook later, "so he'll always have this memory."

Regen has been receiving other pictures, and on Facebook, some people have posted pictures of themselves holding Rootin' for Regen signs. But these aren't just folks from the community; some of these supporters are well-known celebrities.

Raven Goodwin of Disney Channel's "Good Luck Charlie" and country music artist Miranda Lambert both posed for pictures holding Rootin' for Regen signs. Lambert also sent an autograph and has put up a guitar for auction, with proceeds going to Regen.

Members of the ESPN Gameday Crew, Jay Bilas, Reece Davis and Digger Phelps, were all photographed holding Rootin' for Regen signs, as well as members of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball team, Regen's favorite.

Even Jay Bush and Duke, of Bush Brothers and Company bean commercial fame, are rooting for Regen.

"I don't know who could top that in Regen's eyes," said Joy Maples, Regen's aunt, of Jay Bush and Duke's picture. "He loves that dog. He was smiling so big."

Maples said Regen is currently finishing up his third week of treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, and the signs are optimistic.

"Each day he is getting a little stronger and there's a little more movement and effort from him," Maples said. "The doctors and family are very encouraged. There's definitely progress with his mobility and we're really happy about that."

Maples said they won't know how well the treatments are working until they perform some scans on him after week four, but in the meantime, Regen is still receiving encouragement from all over the world.

"It's crazy; there are people all over, people from Africa (sending him things)," Maples said. "We have e-mails and have been contacted by people from different countries. It's awesome; it's insane."

She said members of the Miami Heat organization, Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney, to name a few, have sent him letters of encouragement. He's also received letters from children in an African village, as well as letters from people who claim that Regen's story has brought them closer to God or given them peace and encouragement in their own lives.

"That is what is keeping our family going right now, what everyone is doing," Maples said.

Maples said the support from the community and elsewhere "has been wonderful," but she and the family are still holding out for one more gift.

"We're ready for Regen to be better," she said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com