Larry the Cable Guy, Children's Zoo to bring animals to sick children

2013-03-25T14:40:00Z 2013-04-12T14:29:07Z Larry the Cable Guy, Children's Zoo to bring animals to sick childrenBy ERIN ANDERSEN / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

If you’re a sick kid stuck in a hospital, chances are you won’t be going to the zoo anytime soon.

So Larry the Cable Guy and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo are bringing the zoo to kids and families in children’s hospitals across the country. "Zoofari," an interactive series of 10 video snippets featuring Lincoln’s zoo critters getting up close and way too personal with Larry the Cable Guy, will be sent free of charge to hospitals and rehabilitation centers throughout the United States.

The humorous and educational segments -- averaging about three minutes in length -- will also be available to Lincoln zoo visitors via 46-inch screens located in "Zoofari" kiosks strategically placed around the grounds.

"Zoofari" is a collaboration between the zoo, Larry the Cable Guy (Dan Whitney) and his philanthropic Git-R-Done Foundation, the Abel Foundation and V2 Content, a media production company owned by Brandon and Tiffany Verzal. The Verzals are the parents of 6-year-old Alexis Verzal, for whom Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Alexis Verzal Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital is named. The Git-R-Done Foundation provided $1.2 million to create the children’s rehabilitation hospital.

Git-R-Done is a catalyst charity, said Adrian Stumpf, spokesman with the foundation. It provides the money to kick-start needed charitable programs aimed at helping kids and veterans.

“And what better place to represent children than in a zoo,” Stumpf said during a news conference Monday announcing "Zoofari."

"Zoofari" is just one of several examples of how “Lincoln’s little zoo is going global,” said John Chapo, zoo executive director.

And "Zoofari" videos are a great fit with the zoo’s overall mission of educating children across the country on animal stewardship, according to Chapo.

Although many zoos offer online videos of their animals, "Zoofari" is not so much about the Lincoln Children’s Zoo as it is about teaching children worldwide about the world’s animal species, and doing so with the funny and affable Larry the Cable Guy, Chapo said.

The idea for the zoo videos started last fall. The Verzals, who spent thousands of hours in hospitals as Alexis fought her way back from a devastating brain injury when she was 14 months old, recalled how boring it can be for kids and parents to be confined to a hospital room for weeks and even months.

“You start to get pretty isolated,” Tiffany Verzal said.

Even when families are given one-hour passes to leave the hospital, they rarely have time to do something as fun as visit the zoo, she said.

Enter Larry the Cable Guy -- the guy most kids know as Mater from Disney Pixar’s “Cars” movies. A man with a passion for kids and helping others; and a man who's pretty much OK with trying anything -- even if it means grabbing a crocodile by the tail, or draping himself with a boa (constrictor). “Partnering with Lincoln Children’s Zoo on 'Zoofari' is a unique way to bring the experience of going to a zoo to children who don’t have the opportunity to visit themselves,” Whitney said in a prepared statement. Because of his filming schedule, he was unable to be in Lincoln for the news conference Monday.

In February, Whitney spent six hours at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo filming 10 segments -- featuring an armadillo, African Dwarf crocodile, pygmy marmoset, flying squirrels, Dumeril’s monitor, red-tailed boa constrictor, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, the Humboldt penguin and a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo’s animal nutrition center.

The hissing cockroaches got lost in his collar, the flying squirrels got stuck in his shirt and pants, and the marmoset amused itself by nibbling on a mole on the back of Whitney’s neck, Chapo said.

If time and funding allow, Chapo said, he would love to have Larry the Cable Guy return to film more segments with the zoo’s other inhabitants. And ideally, he’d love to bring in some children to interact with both the comedic star and the zoo’s stars.

“Bottom line, the more we can do to help kids and educate them about the zoo -- we will do everything we can.”

Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

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