Playing Games and Helping Kids is the Best Way to Spend a Day

Veterans United Home Loans employees play games for chairty
Tara Johnson, second from right, plays Trivial Pursuit with fellow Veterans United employees Will Lamm, Miles Steele and Matt Kuhler.

For every person ever told to stop playing that game and do something productive, Tara Johnson has a better idea.

Keep right on playing that game and do something productive.

For the last nine years, Johnson has led a team of gamers at Veterans United Home Loans that has raised more than $95,000 for MU Health Care’s Children’s Hospital through the Extra Life program. Each year, she and her teammates ask supporters to sponsor them in a 24-hour marathon of video games, board games, card games and Ping-Pong.

“What I always tell people is, ‘You’re going to do it anyway, so wouldn’t you rather play with a purpose?’” Johnson said. “As adults, it’s not that often that you can set aside a whole day to do something you really enjoy. It’s a nice escape for people to hang out with their friends and play games for 24 hours.”

Extra Life is a national organization that supports Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Individuals or teams can sign up and raise money for their hospital of choice. Johnson and her Veterans United team are part of the larger Columbia-Jefferson City Extra Life Guild, which has raised more than $247,000 for Children’s Hospital.

Johnson got involved after her nephew was born prematurely and spent two months in the Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit.

“After seeing how amazing the staff was, I really wanted to find a way to give back to them,” she said.

Johnson has loved playing video games since she was a kid — and she still makes time for a 10-hour binge on most weekends — so Extra Life was a natural way for her to make a difference. She began recruiting fellow Veterans United employees to join her, and the team has swelled to as many as 100 players. They gathered at VU for the annual marathon game day during pre-pandemic times and participated virtually the past two years.

“She always steps up and advocates for donations to the Children’s Hospital,” said Megan Freese, an advancement officer for MU Health Care’s chapter of the Children’s Miracle Network. “It’s in the forefront of her mind. She is very humble, but she is making a big difference for the kids in our community.”

This year, Johnson and her employer went even further in their generosity. Johnson submitted a proposal to the Veterans United Foundation to fund the creation of a game room for patients at the new Children’s Hospital, scheduled to open in 2024.

“The game is on,” said David Gozal, MD, the pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital. “For all the right reasons, CMN Extra Life gamers are making playing a very serious endeavor by helping sick children get better.”

If you or someone you know would like to play games for a good cause, you can join the Extra Life program at and learn more by emailing Megan Freese at This year’s Extra Life game day marathon is Nov. 5.
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