(Aug. 2, 2019) Families familiar with rushing in and out of the hospital had the opportunity to relax at the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation’s House By the Sea on 66th Street, for its weekly cookouts.
Believe in Tomorrow, a respite house in Ocean City for families with children who have serious illnesses, hosts a cookout every Monday at 5 p.m. as a way to introduce the families staying there to each other.
The foundation typically hosts six families each week through Labor Day before children go back to school.
“I’ve been involved for 25 years and I don’t know what they go through,” Wayne Littleton, coordinator for the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Respite Housing Program, said. “Only when you go through that do you really relate to somebody else who is going through the same process. We want them to relax and hopefully make bonds with the other families.”
Families have a week for free activities such as enjoying rides at Jolly Roger Amusement Park, fishing and sightseeing on a boat tour, learning to surf and eating out at Ocean City restaurants.
According to Littleton, the foundation welcomes about 140-160 families each year, totaling over 700 people. Littleton believes that the foundation stands out because it sticks with the families longer than other nonprofits.
“We have families that are in our program until the children are 18 years old,” Littleton said. “You get to know them. They become a part of you.”
Littleton said the children’s happiness motivates him to do the best he can to provide a fun, relaxing vacation that the families wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“It means everything,” Alicia Viragh said. “It’s a break from everyday life when you just get to escape. It’s nice to relax and hang out and not have to worry about everything, and do things we don’t normally get to do.”
Viragh, from Chesapeake, Virginia, is especially grateful that the Believe in Tomorrow house is so close to the beach because her daughter, Sophia, has trouble walking. The 6-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017.
“We were in the hospital a lot,” Viragh said. “I can’t even tell you how much and how long because we pretty much lived there for the first year – in and out of the hospital all the time.”
Viragh said that Sophia is most excited for the amusement park and the boats.
The Sayre family from Allentown, Pennsylvania, who are staying at the Believe in Tomorrow Fenwick Island, Delaware, location, were also excited for the week’s activities, especially back-to-school shopping at the outlets.
Jodi Sayre’s 13-year-old daughter, Jillian, has been fighting a brain cancer called medulloblastoma, for six years. Jillian’s recent scans came back clear of cancer.
“We’re obviously celebrating where we’re at right now with clear scans,” Jillian’s father, Steve, said. “We pray every family will get to that point as well.”
Jodi added that there are financial difficulties when fighting cancer.
“We’re so grateful for this because otherwise, we wouldn’t really have the means to get away,” she said. “All that they do, for all of the families, is just incredible.”
As families arrived for the cookout, members of the Hogs and Heroes Foundation greeted them and helped serve dinner. The Hogs and Heroes describe themselves as a “team of dedicated and community-minded motorcycle riders.”
President of Hogs and Heroes, Joe Baumann, said several of their members have been volunteering with Believe in Tomorrow for a few years, and asked if more could help on Monday night. About 20 of their approximately 60-70 members volunteered.
“One of the missions we have is to help the community,” Baumann said. “I’m a 20-year cancer survivor too, so it’s a little more near and dear to the heart. With the kids especially, we want to give back more than anything else.”
James Walsch, Hogs and Heroes vice president, said that Believe in Tomorrow has helped him learn what’s important in life.
“When you can see just the little things that make the adults smile and the children smile, and just for a short period of time, we have an impact on their lives so they don’t have to be stressed out,” Walsch said. “They can enjoy their family and enjoy the atmosphere that’s provided for them here.”
Baumann and Walsch were proud to have their junior members assist as well, who are related to current members, and hope to join the volunteer club when they are older.
Littleton was grateful for the volunteers’ drive to give back.
“I’m only as good as the community allows us to be,” Littleton said. “I feel very blessed to live in a community like this – they just give, give, and give more.”
Littleton is excited that the foundation will be expanding. It will hold a groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 15 at 10 a.m. at its new location on 65th Street.
The new facility will have room for two families. Littleton hopes to start construction in the fall and begin hosting families next summer.
Currently, the Believe in Tomorrow facility on 66th Street is open year-round to provide a free getaway to the beach for critically ill children and their families whenever they may need to escape the stresses of their child’s illness. Families can also vacation at the Believe in Tomorrow House in Fenwick Island and House by the Bay on 28th Street.
For more information about the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation, call 410-723-2842.