Meet the Fans: “Mary Cares” Founder Mary Knight

Hi, Mary! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us and kick off our fan interview series. We’re here to talk about Mary McDonnell and the Mary Cares fundraiser, but first, let’s talk about you. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life outside the fan community.

I’m a wife and mom to our six month old human child and our two year old furbaby puppy. I work in public relations at an SEC university. I love cheering on our football team, family time, and working with our local community theatre.

Mary Knight interview family
Mary with husband Geoff, son Jackson, and dog Savannah

How did you first become a fan of Mary McDonnell?

The first Mary Cares fundraiser was in April 2006, so it must have been before then. My earliest memories of Mary McDonnell are watching her in Dances With Wolves when I was 12 or so. Around that time PBS aired the O Pioneers! stage show starring her, which I recorded and must have watched hundreds of times. I saw her in Sneakers and Passion Fish, but moved on to other things in high school and college. When I really got back into community theatre was about the time BSG was being aired. From that time on Mary became like a mentor for my work in theatre, and I started going back to watch her films and shows and basically treated them as master classes to help improve my own acting skills.

How did the idea for the fundraiser come about? What inspired you to start it?

In late 2005/early 2006, me, Tricia and two other friends starting talking about the idea of doing something for Mary’s birthday. I’d seen another fan group raise money for charity in honor of an actress they liked, so I pitched that idea. We all liked it and agreed to give money to a couple of charities we’d seen press about Mary supporting. We all had Livejournals back then, so we started a page. That first year maybe 15 people donated money. Tricia and I are the two founding members still active in the efforts. And now, Avery is on board. Our goal was always to give what we could just as a way to say thanks to Mary for all she gives to us – her talent, the friendships we’ve made, the experiences we’ve had. We’ve given to various charities throughout the years, but now we’re focusing on Sinte Gleska University with Mary’s blessing. It’s been amazing to watch our little idea grow and evolve.

Mark Knight interview MC and Mary
Mary Cares team Tricia, Avery, and Mary K. with Mary McDonnell

Mary herself has become more involved in the fundraising efforts since those early years, but we’re curious about how she first found out about Mary Cares and how she reacted. 

That first year, we raised like $300 or so and decided to send a card, small present, and flowers to Mary on the BSG set. I included my business card just as an afterthought. We didn’t expect to hear anything. But one day in May while I was at work I got a phone call. It was Mary McDonnell. She wanted me to know that she had just opened the card and wanted to say thank you to all who donated and that she was blown away with gratitude. I think the entire phone call was maybe 10 minutes. I immediately called Tricia and our other friend Heather and replayed the conversation word for word to them. The next year I was able to attend MegaCon in Florida and met Mary in person. Once I introduced myself, she and I talked some about the charity and I asked if she had a particular group she wanted us to support. We stuck with either Lyme Disease or City at Peace for a few years until she decided she wanted us to concentrate our efforts on SGU.

Mary Cares raised $335 that first year for two organizations: the Lyme Disease Association and City at Peace. That total almost doubled in 2007, and again in 2008. To date, almost ten years later, Mary Cares fundraisers have raised over $50,000 for various organizations. Tell us a little bit about how the fundraiser took off and how more people became involved.

This fundraiser has all been done through grassroots and social media. We have a core group of fans who give something every year regardless of the charity, but then we’ve also been able to attract others depending on the charity. For example, our first really big total came when we raised money for breast cancer groups around the final year of BSG. A number of American and European/Aussie/Canadian fans have been or know someone dealing with that issue. So it hit close to home and is something people want to support. I think we even had people from outside Mary’s fan community supporting it. Then with Autism Speaks, we raised another large amount of money. Building a core group of fans helped us, but also Grey’s Anatomy, The Closerand now Major Crimes has also helped. Honestly, it’s Mary’s popularity that helps us grow. She is on a major cable network now and active in social media. Having that presence keeps a little light shining our way. It also helps that Mary really does appreciate our efforts and wants to help out as she can, but she also understands that we want to maintain that grassroots, “give what you can” motto. So while we’ve gotten bigger in some ways, we work very hard to stay small in others.

You’ve always been very focused on staying true to the original spirit of the fundraiser, which was that it was a way to honor Mary and about giving what you can — a $5 donation is every bit as appreciated as a $500 donation. Why is that so important to you? Do you think that you’ve managed that?

The initial idea was never to raise X amount of dollars. It’s always been a pay it forward idea. Like instead of us spending $20 to buy a present and a card to send to Mary, we give that $20 to a cause she really cares about. It seemed a win/win for everyone that way. Mary has been very generous with giving us autographs and other incentives. We always have at least two prizes that are available to anyone who donates no matter the amount to maintain that spirit of give what you can. Bottom line is we’re all Mary fans and we are all doing this for the support of her and the charity as a way to say thanks. If we get something material out of it, that’s just a bonus.

In the past, the organizations that Mary Cares raised money for changed each year, but recently Mary Cares has been working exclusively with Sinte Gleska University. How did that happen?

As we’ve grown through the years, not just in terms of more money being donated but in attracting more fans, Mary has become more involved. She expressed that she wants to do what she can for SGU, and we really enjoyed working with them. So now having our focus be on them is wonderful. We can build relationships and really see how our efforts can help and make an impact. Next year will be ten years since that first fundraiser.

Mary Knight interview Marys
Mary K. meeting Mary M. for the first time

When this first started, did you imagine that you’d still be doing it today, and that it would have expanded the way it has? What has inspired you to keep going with it for so long?

Honestly, no. I really didn’t think much beyond that first and second year. We’d talked about stopping once BSG ended, but then Mary continued to get TV roles and that gave fans a thread that kept them together. And her popularity has continued to grow, which just brings in more fans. Each year we have people ask us if we are going to do the birthday fundraiser. That is wonderful. And now we’ve added a fall fundraiser for those who may not be able to participate in the spring one. So we’re growing and that’s because of the fans. They seem to want to participate each year, so we want to continue for them.

What have been some of the best parts of running Mary Cares? What have been some of the struggles?

The best part is meeting all the Mary fans. I know so many amazing, talented, interesting people from all over the world because of Mary and being part of Mary Cares. Those friendships have made me a better person and I value them all. Mary Cares is a fun thing to do. We’ve worked hard to set it up with a hands-off approach. SGU has its own donation site, fans just email us a copy of their receipts from donating and then we tally the amount. So the struggles are few. And Mary Cares isn’t a brick and mortar. It’s an online group/organization and just us three providing updates and creating online events. So while we have busy times, it’s overall easy to run throughout the year. Which is intentional. We’ve always wanted it to be fun and a way to say and show our thanks.

Mary Knight interview fans
Fans gathering at DragonCon 2014

The next event you have planned is a one-day event on October 11th to benefit Sinte Gleska’s day care center. Can you tell us a little bit about what that’s going to look like, and how people can participate?

The one-day event will basically be a push to get donations to SGU on Oct. 11th. Fans can visit the university’s website and donate then send us the receipt. We’ll give away raffle items likely the next day to those qualifying. It’s going to be totally online and a really fun way to get some SGU items as well as support the university. We’re not expecting to raise as much money as the spring drive, but this keeps SGU in the fans’ minds.

What are some of the best ways for fans to get involved in the Mary Cares fundraising efforts?

Spread the word and give what they can. We have a Tumblr site, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and still maintain the Livejournal page that started it all. Fans can find out our history and keep up with what we are doing through any and all of those sites. And really, spreading the word about us does help so much. There are loads of new fans to Major Crimes and evenBSG who may not know anything about Mary Cares or SGU. So talking about our efforts with those new fans help grow our base. And then of course contributing any monetary donation they can is wonderful. Those gifts can be given during the spring birthday fundraiser or the fall one. Or if they want, they can set up a monthly donation directly with SGU.

And now, moving away from Mary Cares to a few more general questions – like I said, you’ve been involved in the fan community for a long time! What have been some of your most memorable experiences?

Let’s see, there are lots of them! One highlight was being part of a BSG-themed wedding with a group of both Mary fans andBSG fans. I’ve also enjoyed all the travel I’ve done either to conventions to see Mary or meet up with fellow fans. And again, the friendships are the best. Two of my four bridesmaids (Tricia and Sue) are my friends because of Mary. Tricia lives in Texas and Sue is in England. I would have likely never met either of them had it not been for Mary, and they are just two of the long list of friends I have because of her. And of course, being able to meet and work with Mary McDonnell has been one of those pinch myself moments. She’s such a bright light, a truly caring, loving individual.

Mary Knight interview friends1
Mary K. with fan friends Sue and Avery

What is your favorite Mary project, and who is your favorite Mary character?

Dances With Wolves will always have a special place in my heart. I loved Stands With A Fist. Her resilience, her determination, and strength countered by her vulnerability and tenderness. She’s one of the best female roles to come along in film.

Mary Knight interview Tricia
Mary K. on her wedding day with friend and fellow fan Tricia

What are some of your non-Mary-related entertainment and artistic interests? What other shows, actors, etc., do you enjoy?

I mentioned my love of community theatre. I love to act, direct and/or produce plays when I can. I also love making documentaries and short films. As far as shows, my family is really into comic themed shows at the moment. So we’re watchingGotham, Flash, Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and of course, Major Crimes.

Your life has obviously changed tremendously in the time since you’ve been involved in the fan community. Has your experience or identity as a fan played a role in other aspects of your life?

I went from single to married with a kid, a house and a dog in the past ten years! Wow! It’s still amazing when I think back on it all. Fandom played a role in that I met friends like Tricia and Sue who helped me grow tremendously. And funny enough, it was a fandom that played a part in my finding and marrying my husband, not Mary’s but Doctor Who.

Any parting words for the Mary McDonnell and Mary Cares fans out there?

I’ve really enjoyed working with Tricia and Avery to continue on with Mary Cares. I think we have some exciting ideas for the future with it that I’m looking forward to sharing with our supporters and the Mary fans. This fandom is wonderful to be a part of and I am continually amazed with how generous and giving Mary fans are.

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