By Brian Doogan
In the 25 years since Acorns' foundation, CEO David Strudley emphasises that in its mission to provide the optimum care and support for life-limited and life-threatened children the charity has "never stopped trying to improve".
More than 2,200 children have been looked after during that period, 700 in the past year alone.
Given the cost of running the three Acorns hospices located in Selly Oak, Walsall and Worcester is almost £9m annually, the constant quest for improvement in the care the charity is able to administer is no small undertaking.
"Up to 20 per cent of children who come into our care now outlive their original prognosis," Strudley explained. "Mainly this is a result of the medical intervention, the improvements over the years. The love and care provided by our staff and volunteers have been there all the time, too, but it's the medical care that makes this possible.
"Moving with the times has been our mantra. We've never stopped trying to improve, be that in terms of qualifications or facilities or whatever, and it's the unsung heroes who have contributed and helped to make all this happen.
"That's the special thing, too, about the relationship between Aston Villa and Acorns. The Club doesn't make such a big thing about what they do and there's a lovely sense of them remaining unsung heroes in all of this.
"Yet the impact has been enormous - unquantifiable probably in terms of increasing people's awareness about Acorns and the relationships which have been forged over the years as a consequence.
"The Club raises staggering sums of money, too. A couple of years ago when the first Acorns Day was organised by the Club almost £55,000 was raised, an amount which was matched by Villa's Board of Directors and that incredible total of almost £110,000 arrived at a critical juncture, a point in the year when we were trying to balance our books and also plan for the following year.
"It lifted our spirits.
"Last year the amount raised on Acorns Day was almost £98,000 and once again this was matched by the Villa Board, a truly outstanding gift. Acorns Day this year against Stoke City coincides with us launching our new campaign Branching Out, which will enable us to reach more children right across the Midlands by offering home-based services similar to those offered in the hospices.
"We're tremendously committed to this and the commitment demonstrated to Acorns by Villa over the years gives us even more strength and determination in our ongoing efforts to improve and to offer the care and support we pride ourselves on."
Strudley showed Villa manager Paul Lambert and CEO Paul Faulkner around the Selly Oak hospice last week, a 10-bed facility costing £7,500 per day to run.
While the Garden of Remembrance offers a poignant memorial to the children who have passed away, it is the continued investment in infrastructure and people which is perhaps the most telling tribute.
When it opened its doors for the first time in 1988 Acorns in Birmingham was only the third children's hospice in the world.
Today, with nearly 60 shops in the region, Acorns has the largest retail chain among children's hospices.
"From learning about the way the shops contribute to the day-to-day running of the hospices to seeing first-hand in one of the rooms a safeguarding bed for children with challenging behaviour, the experience at Acorns is always overwhelming," Lambert acknowledged.
"So much in life these days we just take for granted but everything Acorns is about puts things in perspective, that's for sure.
"As a Club, we're actually privileged to have this relationship with Acorns and to be in a position to help raise awareness and to actually raise funds. The funding required to run the hospices, well, it's a never-ending task. But the difference it can make in people's lives, no one will ever be able to put a figure on that.
"That's what touches us when we visit Acorns, the fact it's very real. A lot of what we do as a club with Acorns, people don't see nor do we seek attention for it. But for something like Acorns Day it's a reminder to everybody that we have a responsibility to those in our community who can do with our help.
"From Randy Lerner, to the players and staff and everybody connected with Aston Villa, it's a responsibility which rightly we take seriously."
Echoing these sentiments, Faulkner highlighted the various activities that will contribute to this year's Acorns Day total, symbolising the bond between club and charity which through the years has become as natural as breathing.
"From cakes sales, various raffles and auctions right through to a five-a-side tournament and even a sky dive, so many people connected to the Club have come together again to contribute to a day which is now an integral part of our calendar," Faulkner said.
"On Sunday itself there will be prizes on offer including a two-day trip for a family of five to Legoland, including £300 spending money, and even an Easter Egg weighing 9st! The overwhelming response to our Acorns Day activities demonstrates the depth of feeling this relationship evokes in everybody at the Club.
"David Strudley has said it many times and it's true - we're really family now and Acorns Day, in particular, is our day to extend our thanks and respect for the incredible work that Acorns delivers to those in pain and in need."
* If you wish to donate £5 to Acorns on Acorns Day please text AVFC125 to 70070; to donate £10 please text AVFC1210 to 70070.
To find out more about Acorns Day, please visit www.acorns.org.uk/acornsday.