TOMS RIVER – WRAT 95.9 radio personality Gotts put a new spin on topping the charts as this year’s repeat celebrity for the Ocean of Love Radiothon Billboard.
The fundraiser for children with cancer raised $165,749 within 72 hours – with more money still coming in. The initial total represents the largest dollar amount raised over two decades of the annual event and far exceeds the 2022 goal to raise $109,000.
Gotts climbed at least 40 feet of scaffolding to take up 72 hours of residence on a Toms River billboard to raise money for the non-profit he said has personally touched his heart.
Though he admitted he slept for only about five hours during the three days he lived on the billboard, Gotts said it was all worth it. Even the onslaught of torrential downpours during the final hours didn’t justify any thoughts of seeking better shelter.
“Getting to actually physically meet some of the kids (affected by cancer) was just purely magic,” said Gotts. “They pull off the impossible and make it possible with an unbelievable fighting power.”
As his voice faltered a bit, Gotts said he met children under five years old who exhibited unbelievable strength and extreme willpower in keeping going on at such a young age.
“Most people would think of cancer as meaning they’d reached the end of the tunnel,” Gotts shared. “These kids just want to enjoy their lives.”
Indeed, that’s part of the vision of Ocean of Love, headed up by Executive Director Theresa Segui. She explained the fundraising efforts aren’t designed to facilitate research efforts. Instead, Ocean of Love focuses on connecting affected families with things like game nights. Siblings are also invited to join in the fun to give them attention they often lose out on because their brother or sister is sick.
Ocean of Love maintains headquarters on Route 37 on Island Heights in a house complete with a full kitchen. Kids enjoy baking together, as well as taking advantage of gaming systems, an art room, and a special play area.
“I also visit the local schools frequently to discuss kids with cancer,” said Segui. “We have a partnership with the Island Heights School District, where their sixth-grade class does a field trip to Ocean Love and make crafts for the other children. They learn about giving back to the community because it starts young.”
Segui first became involved with Ocean of Love on a personal level when her then six-year-old son was diagnosed with medulloblastoma of the brain and spine. Antonio is now 25 and now needs a heart and liver transplant because of the treatment used to contain his illness.
Meanwhile, it turns out the concept for the Ocean of Love Radiothon Billboard actually predated Gotts and WRAT’s involvement in the fundraising efforts.
Andy Chase, who now works with the RAT team, previously served as an afternoon host for another radio station. Before he joined the 95.9 crew, Chase suggested they take on the Ocean of Love fundraising endeavor – as someone who once lived atop the billboard himself year after year.
“We chose this location because it’s a high traffic area,” Chase explained. “There’s something very special about this event. This is kids coming in and saying they want to help kids in their neighborhood. It’s people coming in with the last $100 of their paychecks and making donations as a real grassroots effort.”
According to Segui, a three-year-old child once came in to break open his piggy bank in front of the crowd to donate to kids with cancer. Now 17, the teenager returns annually to add to the fundraiser’s ending tally.
Various other groups collaborate to bring in money and proudly turn over tens of thousands of dollars to help support local children with cancer.
During the radiothon, WRAT broadcasted live from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. onsite at the billboard’s Hooper Avenue location. Meanwhile, the station was on the airwaves 24/7 reminding everyone to stop by to see Gotts and make contributions.
Toms River Township first responders all helped bring attention to the event. Approximately three dozen emergency vehicles paraded to the site when it was time for Gotts to make his final descent from the place he’d called home for the last 72 hours.
Gotts readily admits he’s known as the radio host who takes on the unusual. He’s participated in the polar bear plunge and worn some crazy outfits to bring attention to the station and various causes.
However, nothing quite hits Gotts as the power to encourage others to give to families dealing with cancer.
“We give all our thanks to the great Rat Rock nation,” summed up Gotts. “We give all the love we have to the great Ocean of Love organization and a big shout out to all the families and the children who are going through all this.”
“We have your back,” Gotts continued. “We got your front, we got your top – we’ve got it all.”