It was all sunshine and smiles on Mother's Day May 10 at the 26th Annual Courageous Kids Day at Great America. Almost 600 registered kids with cancer from all over California–some in remission–and their families forgot their troubles for the day and had a fling thanks to the American Cancer Society, 200 volunteers and the generosity of Great America.
The courageous kids and their families–VIPs for the day– entered the picnic grove at Great America through a purple and green balloon archway. Volunteers pinned white carnations on moms and gave lime green baseball caps to the courageous kids and their siblings.
Everything was provided for the crowd of about 3,600 to ensure they had a memorable Mother's Day outing: barbeque chicken and hot dogs for lunch; arts and crafts; water balloon and hula hoop contests; photo opportunities with beauty queens, sports stars and cartoon characters such as Snoopy; amusement park rides; and formal family portraits taken by professional photographers.
“We look forward to this day every year. We're not going to the hospital. We're going somewhere fun today–to Great America. This is where we get our family picture,” says Victoria Azevedo, whose daughter Lilly was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in 2006. “We've come here every year since Lilly was strong enough.”
The Azevedo family–Victoria, her husband, Luis, and their children, Lucas and Lilly–had driven to Great America from Livingston, Calif., a little more than 100 miles away.
“With medical expenses, we couldn't afford to do something like this. Families going through cancer don't really have extra money. Lilly's expensive anti–nausea medicine wasn't even covered by insurance. You're taking off work. You're in survival mode,” says Azevedo.
Each year, two courageous kids are chosen to be ambassadors and speak on behalf of all the children.
“I have leukemia,” says seven–year–old ambassador Sofia Vernacchia from Los Gatos. “But I want people to treat me the same as before I got sick.” Sofia was diagnosed in June of 2014 and will be in treatment at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital through the end of 2016.
Sofia would like kids to draw pictures for her and follow her on Facebook at Sofia's Courage, the name of their fundraising effort through the nonprofit Team G Foundation (www.teamgfoundation.org/sofias–courage) to raise funds for research on childhood cancer, the second leading cause of death in children (accidents are the first).
“We came to Great America to check out of our daily routine and celebrate with other families,” says San Jose resident Gabrielle Contreras, whose three–year–old daughter Giselle also has ALL and is a 2015 ambassador. “It's nice to know we're not fighting this alone. We're doing it together.”