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Custom car show fan's 2008 senior project keeps on giving

When Brian Thomas needed an idea for a high school senior project in 2008, he combined two unlikely interests: helping premature babies and car shows.

Thomas' nephew was born two months premature in 2006. He weighed only 2 pounds, 15 ounces and stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit at Rogue Valley Medical Center for more than a month.

"It was a kind of a shock at first," Thomas said.

The 22-year-old North Medford High School graduate created a car show for his senior project in honor of his nephew and to benefit the NICU and the Children's Miracle Network, a fundraising organization for children's hospitals.

Thomas resurrected the show in 2011 and is doing it again this year. Called Big Hands Helping Little Hearts, it's set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at his father's business, Bob Thomas Automotive in Medford.

Thomas hopes to make it an annual event.

"It's nice to be able to help these families who are going through what we did," Thomas said.

He anticipates about 150 classic cars will be on display, from early 20th-century models to 2012 throwback Camaros. He hopes to draw some 2,000 people.

About 15 local businesses, including the Palms Café, Angelo's Pizza and several Southern Oregon classic car clubs, have donated to the event. Already, Thomas said he's raised $5,000 — half of his $10,000 goal.

Money from raffle tickets, food and entry fees will all be donated to the NICU.

The first two car shows raised about $3,000 for the hospital, said Susan Mendenhall, development officer for RVMC's Children's Health and Children's Miracle Network.

The donation went toward RVMC's $6 million expansion project for the NICU. Thomas' donation helped complete a new room in the unit, Mendenhall said.

"It's pretty cool to see our name on the board they have listing the sponsors," Thomas said, smiling.

Thomas's father, Bob Thomas, 50, said he's proud of how much his son's senior project has grown. Only 65 cars participated in the benefit in 2008, which raised $900. Now, the show is expected to raise $10,000 and is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization.

"It's awesome," Bob Thomas said.

This year, Brian Thomas formed a group made up of family members to help him during the nine-month planning process. His father contacted car shops such as Baxter Auto Parts, O'Reilly Auto Parts and White City Napa Auto Parts, who all donated to the show.

The event attracts some families with premature babies, Thomas said. His nephew, who is now 5 years old, will attend.

"You wouldn't be able to tell he's premature," Thomas said. "He's been running around and taking karate classes."

Thomas said he works with the auto shop at North Medford to attract volunteers for the show. Two girls from the high school are helping with this year's event for their senior projects.

Like Thomas, they might just get an A.

Reach UO reporting intern Josephine Woolington at 541-776-4368 or jwoolington@mailtribune.com

Brian Thomas sits in a 1934 three-window coupe. Thomas started a benefit car show, Big Hands Helping Little Hearts, to raise funds for the neonatal intensive care unit at Rogue Valley Medical Center. - Jamie Lusch