On the evening of a day forecast to be the hottest of the year so far, close to 1,500 people braved the weather Thursday in the wide open spaces of Hart Park to show how Wauwatosa supports its own.
Truthfully, the heat wasn't that bad. The dire warnings of 96-plus temperatures turned out not to break 92, and as the sun began to dip toward the horizon, a nice breeze came up.
The warmth generated toward the Birk family by a large and supportive crowd easily overcame any discomfort as the Koncert for Kaylen came off without a hitch.
The fundraising – and awareness-raising – event was put together in something like record time by a group of volunteers, most of them moms from 6-year-old Kaylen Birk's Lincoln Elementary School family.
It was only on April 4 that Kaylen was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive and inoperable brain stem tumor, after an minor accident at school had sent her to the hospital the day before.
Scans to check her condition after what had appeared to be a mild concussion revealed the "diffuse infiltrating pontine glioma," or DIPG.
For more information or to offer help, visit www.kareforkaylen.com and http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/kaylenbirk1/mystory. Or contact: Michael Walsh, 414-477-2830; e-mail email@example.com.
When the Birks elected to try a new treatment, still in the study stage, for the previously incurable condition, the Lincoln School community, Old Hillcrest Neighborhood Association, community leaders and business people lined up to help organize Thursday's concert.
Chris Leffler, owner of Leff's Lucky Town, pitched to help plan the event and then donated picnic dinners for all as part of the $20 price of admission ($5 for children).
Music for the evening was donated by The Differentials, an ensemble of area musicians including Brian Leahy of the popular local Irish band, Leahy's Luck.
On Thursday morning, with 500 advance tickets already sold and more than $5,000 already in the till, the Kiwanis Club of Wauwatosa presented a check for $5,000.
By evening's end, between ticket sales, auctions and beverage proceeds, the community had turned out its pockets for $35,000.
Maureen Jens, a close friend of Kathy Birk since their daughters were both 1 year old, said that soon after Kaylen's diagnosis, people in their circle began talking about fundraising but weren't sure how to begin.
"I was approached by Michael Walsh," Jens said, "who said, 'Hey, I think we should start a committee here. I can get Leff's, I might be able to get the Rotary Pavilion, I can get Brian Leahy. We just need to get a committee together of people who are close to Kathy, and want to do something and bring an event to life.'"
"So with that, I said, 'Wow, that's an amazing offer.' I did run it by Kathy, who was speechless – overwhelmed with her own circumstances at the time – but we went ahead with it, just started asking some key individuals, with all the various strengths that you would need to put an event together."
Alicia Bartz, whose son, Sam, is a classmate of Kaylen's and a talented writer and communicator, eagerly joined the effort.
"We heard 'Yes' over and over again," Bartz said. "I think when you're fundraising, you hear a lot of 'noes' – and we heard, 'Yes, and what more can I do?' 'Yes, and how can I help more?'
"Firefly Realty is an example of that. They did the beach balls tonight, with Kaylen's logo on it, and then they said, 'What else can we do?' and they donated some things for the silent auction."
Former city alderman Walsh, speaking from the stage during a concert intermission, was perhaps only half-joking when he said that were he considering starting a new business, he would recruit Lincoln moms to key positions.
Kathy Birk also stepped to the mic to thank her friends and all who came out to support her daughter and the family – Kathy, her husband Jon, son Thomas, 9, and especially Kaylen.
"I don't know exactly what to say," she said. "We are overwhelmed and overjoyed with the love and support of this community.
"If we ever questioned whether we were in the right place, we have no doubts. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Just keep sending love and prayers to Kaylen."
Mayor Kathy Ehley, arriving from another engagement after the Koncert for Kaylen was in full swing, seemed momentarily stunned by the size of the crowd – and yet at the same time, not at all surprised.
"It just makes me so proud of my community," Ehley said. "I'm just overwhelmed with how generous the people of Wauwatosa are. They don't just give money, they take action. That's what gets things done.
"It's neighbor caring about neighbor. That's what we're all about."