Building Vipers, Building Hope

Written by editor on . Posted in Spring 2009

Story by Maurice Liang

You can’t tell I’m smiling,” said Brock, as he looked up from his bed, “but I am!” Having endured three brain surgeries, his face couldn’t express his happiness, but inside, he was beaming as he clutched his new RidemakerZ Viper toy. Being a kid in a hospital is no fun. Being a kid in a hospital at Christmas is even worse. So the Northern California VCA decided to share some Viper cheer with the patients at the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif. this Christmas by hosting the first “Build-A-Viper Bash,” where children could custom-build their own Viper toy.


I first discovered the RidemakerZ Viper toys at VOI.10. They were used as part of the centerpieces. Similar to the Build-A-Bear concept, where you can create your own personalized teddy bear, RidemakerZ offers a line of toy cars—or “RideZ,” as they prefer to call them—that can be customized by choosing from a range of wheels, tires, hood scoops, exhausts and other accessories. The cars are a good size, not too big, not too small, approximately a foot long, and snap together quickly, making it easy for kids of all ages to build. And, fortunately for us, one of the RideZ is the 2008 Viper SRT10® coupe!

Robyn Pass, Partner Marketing Manager at RidemakerZ, and her “ZEO,” were enthusiastic about supporting this cause, and agreed to supply us with 120 Viper RideZ and accessories at a substantial discount. For any kids that might prefer to snuggle up to a stuffed animal rather than a car (gasp!), we also provided some Build-A-Bear teddy bears.

Selecting the charity was easy. Our club supports the Brian Angen Memorial Foundation (BAMF) charity, in honor of Brian Angen, son of Viper club members Terri and Rocky Angen. Brian died in a boating accident at the age of 23. BAMF supports the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where Brian had received a prosthetic eye when he was a child. Jennifer Gabriel, Vice President of Philanthropy (whom we nicknamed “Jen I” to give her a Viper-sounding name) and Jen Rippley (Jen II), loved the idea, and helped us put the plan in motion and coordinate the logistics at the hospital.

Thanks to all those who generously contributed to the effort, the NorCal VCA raised enough money to sponsor a toy for each child and donate another $1,400 to BAMF!


Creighton laughed and giggled as he pretended he was racing a Viper around a track, as his father Stephen pushed his wheelchair around the circular driveway where our Vipers were parked. Kids that were well enough to go outside eagerly checked out our cars.

“A 3-year-old, recovering from heart surgery two weeks earlier was checking out the Vipers,” recalled VCA member Barbara Drummer. “I asked his mom which Viper was his favorite, and she pointed to the 2005 Copperhead. I answered, ‘That’s mine. Would he like to sit in it?’ The boy nodded quietly. At first, his mom placed him on the driver’s seat but he was so low in the car he couldn’t see out. So we put him in my lap and let him push the start button to start the car. I couldn’t see his face, but judging from his mother’s reaction, he was having a great time. He loved the loud roar of the engine, and the rock music!”

Added Glen McAdon, “We had a little guy who had his head in a halo wheeled out in his wheelchair to check out the cars. His name was Mikey. He was maybe 4 or 5 years old, with a sad look on his face, not talking much. We keep a few dozen toy Vipers in the car just for times like this. I asked him what color Viper he would like, red, blue, black or white. He said black. I went and got him a black one and the smile came out and he started talking like crazy.”

Even the hospital staff was excited about the cars! Chaplain Bernice Gotelli sat in Roger Gray’s red RT/10 and suggested that maybe she needed one as her company car.


Inside the hospital, a mini-Viper production plant was in full swing. Toy Viper parts were spread across the table, smorgasbord-style. Kids would come in and choose the color Viper they liked, and which accessories they wanted to add. Club members took turns helping the kids assemble and decorate their cars. “We have SO many stuffed animals,” said one mother. “This is so neat because it’s something different!”

For patients who were too ill to leave their beds, the hospital’s Childlife staff escorted club members to the childrens’ rooms so we could build a Viper for them. Elsewhere, Rocky Angen headed up the “production room” where club members built “turn-key cars” for patients who couldn’t participate in the event.

Those who preferred stuffed animals had fun choosing the outfits. At one point, when we ran out of outfits for the stuffed animals, club member Toni Todd got creative. “I whipped out some felt and a glue gun and made some designer clothes for one little girl’s stuffed dog. Her buoyant jumping, combined with a radiant smile, made it all worth it.”


Many club members have been contributing to BAMF for years, so this was a chance to interact with the patients, tour the facility and see the amazing kind of work that the hospital does for kids. Since the hospital specializes in children, everything is geared towards kids—from blood pressure cuffs the size of your finger (designed to fit around an infant’s arm), to complex blood purifying machines, to the brightly-colored décor on the ceilings (for when children are wheeled around on a gurney), to a staff that obviously adores children. It makes you proud to support such a worthwhile organization.

BAMF took this opportunity to present Children’s Hospital with a check for $10,000. Over the years, BAMF has contributed over $125,000, which has earned them a spot on the hospital’s “Bertha Wright” top-tier contributor’s list. The hospital’s CEO and President, Frank Tiedemann, thanked the Viper Club and the Brian Angen Memorial Foundation for their continued support. The hospital generously provided lunch for all our participants as well.


A lot of behind-the-scenes effort went into making this event possible. A special thank you to Robyn Pass at RidemakerZ, Jennifer Gabriel and Jen Ripley at Children’s Hospital, Marilyn Freudlich, Marketing & Sales Manager from Build-A-Bears, Jon Brobst at PartsRack, and Terri, Casey, and Rocky Angen from BAMF. And, of course, a heartfelt thank you to all who contributed!

As I looked around the hospital, I saw a heartwarming picture. Club members whom I never would have expected gently coached the children on how to assemble their Vipers. Parents looked on with smiles. Kids smiled and even laughed. At one table, Alyssa, a very young cancer patient, sat in her dad’s lap as they shared a moment, building a Viper together. Jonathan and Shannon, two other patients, raced their new Vipers across the floor. It was magical.

“I had one of the mothers of a sick child come up to me in the parking lot at the end of the day to say thank you,” said VCA member McAdon. “She said her son had been sick and throwing up all morning, and when we arrived, everything changed. She said it got his mind off of how rotten he was feeling and made his day, and hers, too. This was the best Christmas party I have attended—ever!”

Jen Ripley from the Children’s Hospital summed up the day well: “The event was a smashing success. People loved the life-size Vipers! Staff and patients loved looking at the cars and getting to sit in them. I heard many oohs and ahhs. And the kids loved building the cars and bears.” Jennifer Gabriel concurred: “We truly appreciate the tremendous donation of materials, time and energy on your part, as well as the participation of the Brian Angen Memorial Foundation and the Viper Club. It was a remarkable day, one that will be remembered by our staff and patients for a long time.”



If your VCA region would like to host a similar event, the Northern California VCA has made it easy to replicate. We’ve developed a checklist, provided sample material, and even have some recommended children’s hospitals from around the country. All you need to do is decide upon the charity you want to support, get your club members to sponsor the toys, and contact Robyn Pass at RidemakerZ. For more information, contact NorCal VCA president Maurice Liang at [email protected].


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