More than 600 courageous kids with cancer and their equally courageous parents and families celebrated Mother’s Day May 13th at the County Fair Picnic Grove at Santa Clara’s Great America for the 23rd annual Courageous Kids Day, a unique event sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
All the kids were given red baseball caps, so it was hard to tell who had cancer and who didn’t. It was just a bunch of kids in red caps and their families enjoying a sunny day at the park—picnicking, playing games, taking rides, and having family portraits made. Some of the kids had travelled from Oregon and Nevada.
Eighteen-year-old Jazmine Garcia from Morgan Hill is one of this year’s Courageous Kids Ambassadors selected to share their stories with the community. It’s her twelfth year to attend Courageous Kids Day.
Garcia was diagnosed at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara with ALL, a childhood leukemia, in 2002 and has been off treatment for nine years. Though just seven when diagnosed, she remembers that “they didn’t make it seem like I was sick. I didn’t realize I was sick half the time.”
Now older , wiser, and healthy, Garcia says, “When kids are diagnosed with cancer, it’s most important to remind them they’re children and can still have fun. Even though they’re sick, in the end, they’re still children.”
Butch Coyne’s daughter Emily, who passed away from cancer in 2003 when she was eleven, was the original Courageous Kids Ambassador. Coyne and his family were among the 200 volunteers facilitating the event.
“It’s an incredible day for parents who go through this. You live with worry 364 days a year, but this one day is absolutely worry free. You can come here and create memories that will last a lifetime,” says Coyne. “It’s the best Mother’s Day gift you can give a mom and dad – any time you can support the family.”
“The day is also for the siblings, so they don’t feel left out. They feel special, too, not just the sick child. The whole family goes through this,” says Coyne.
Celebrities such as Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Ronnie Lott and Santa Clara University’s Broncos Basketball Team players gave autographs and posed for photos.
“Basketball players can put a smile on the kids’ faces and give them a little bit of encouragement. It might make their day. It means a lot to the guys as well,” says SCU Coach James Ware.
Los Gatos Quilter Clareen Dunivin assisted kids coloring fabric squares to be made into three Courageous Kids Quilts and auctioned to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Each is expected to raise $1,000 to $5,000.
“This is an amazing event and an opportunity to make a difference in the children’s lives,” says Jim Stellmack, Director of Sales and Marketing for Great America, which has hosted the event for about twenty years, covering park admission for families and providing a hot, catered lunch. Citti’s Florist contributed to the flowers that each mother received.
Courageous Kids Day is the inspiration of volunteer and cancer survivor Gay Crawford, who walked with a friend on the devastating journey of losing a son to cancer. Crawford now works with a committee of about 40 volunteers to plan this annual, happy day for courageous kids and their families—3,410 in 2011 and even more this year.