About 25 families of children with cancer could get a week-long break at the beach thanks to a local construction firm’s fundraising efforts.
Brasfield & Gorrie’s almost 200 employees in Kennesaw will spend today in a chili cook-off and tailgate competition that benefits families of children with cancer.
The company chooses a charity each year to be the focus of a fall fundraiser.
Last year, the company raised about $114,000 to benefit No Longer Bound, a drug and alcohol abuse recovery program for men in Cumming.
Today, the company is turning its focus to a Marietta charity.
Launched by a pediatric cancer nurse, Blue Skies sends families of children with cancer to a weeklong vacation to Windmark Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast at no cost to the family.
“Their goal is really to minister to and bless families who have a child with pediatric cancer,” said Brent Parkins, a director with Brasfield & Gorrie.
Since it began in March 2010, 16 trips have hosted between 12 and 13 families each.
Melinda Mayton, the Marietta native who started the charity, says the idea is for the kids to have a good time and the parents to have a worry-free week.
“It’s like a piece of paradise,” Mayton said.
At the end of the week, Mayton said she’s never sure who had the best time — the families or volunteers.
Brasfield & Gorrie’s contributions will enable the group to have two additional trips next year hosting around 25 extra families.
A pediatric cancer nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, Mayton says she’s seen the toll cancer can take on parents of sick children.
It was her years at the bedside of children with cancer that prompted her to begin Blue Skies, but one former patient drove Mayton to take action.
A teenage girl’s bone cancer had a particularly stressful impact on her mother. Though her only child had run out of treatment options and the girl’s father had also died from cancer, the mother had “hope in the situation even knowing that she was facing losing her daughter,” Mayton said.
When the girl was told she had no more options for treatment, she told her mother she wanted the family to take a beach vacation along with their nurse.
“Even years later, her mother looks back on the trip as a time of endearment and a time of happy memories,” Mayton said.
Mayton joined the family and the nurse, who was her co-worker, on the beach trip and says she was amazed at how difficult it was for the family to enjoy the week.
“It’s like I can feel it like it was yesterday if I just close my eyes,” Mayton said.
The girl’s bone cancer caused her to wince when trying to get her wheelchair down the bumpy beach and the family remained exhausted on vacation.
“It just seems like it shouldn’t be that hard for a family who just wanted to go and spend some time at the beach,” Mayton said.
Sixteen families — about 200 individuals — later, Mayton says the trips let families know they aren’t alone and give them a chance to rebuild relationships and relax.
To make the lives of the families easier for a week, Mayton and a group of volunteers join them on vacation attending to their physical and emotional needs.
No one can understand, Mayton said, having a child with cancer unless you’ve been there.
“If your good friend went through that, they could call you and would to the best of your ability empathize with them,” Mayton said. “But until you’ve been in their shoes, you can’t really understand.”