From the desk of Page Aiken
Whether you have grown up in this area, or just started a new season here, most would agree that we are extremely fortunate to live in the Golden Isles. In the last decade, our once sleepy Georgia coastline has been “discovered”, and thousands have flocked to move to our sea. What is it about the Golden Isles that is so special? Surely there are other nice beach towns to live in, and some might think that other beaches are more beautiful because the water is more “blue”. I can say without a doubt that beyond our area’s unique natural beauty, and in spite of our brackish water, it’s the hearts of our local people that make our skies shine so blue.
Blue Skies is a non-profit organization that provides week-long beach retreats for families with a child stricken by pediatric cancer. As marriages, finances, and siblings all suffer, this wonderful ministry, directed by former oncology nurse Melinda Mayton, brings 10 weary families to the beach each week of the summer. Volunteers raise funds for the guests’ expenses, then lovingly serve and care for them, allowing the families a time of restoration - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Children are loved on and played with like “normal”, adults are ministered to and connect with others on kindred journeys, and the families are treated to fun events and unique experiences that lift them above the clouds of childhood cancer.
For the last decade, Blue Skies camps have been held on the gulf coast of Florida, where our local friends Chris and Cassie Busby were guests in 2016 and 2017 when their 3-year-old son Chase was battling leukemia. The Busby’s were so positively impacted by their experience at Blue Skies, they began recruiting others to go back and volunteer together, including me and my family in 2018. After a few years of gaining support here locally and finding a growing number of volunteers traveling to Florida to participate, we felt led to suggest to the director to consider hosting at least one week of the camps here on St. Simons.
Having grown up on St. Simons and now raising two children here, it was clear to both me and my wife that not only is this a great beach town with lots of outdoor family activities, we firmly believed that our local neighbors would enthusiastically support the Blue Skies mission. “Bring a camp to St. Simons,” we implored Melinda, “And we promise that our community will love on these families – we’ll take very good care of them here.” We launched the campaign at my birthday party last fall, and fundraising and planning began - led by several previous local volunteer families, including the Busby’s, Shivers, and Albersons.
The inaugural week of SSI camp took place a few weeks ago at the end of July – and to say that our hopes and expectations were exceeded is an understatement. As we shared the blessings of our island with our appreciative guests, we were personally blown away by the generosity, love, and support of our community. In addition to our fundraising goals being fully met, many of our local restaurants like Sandy Bottom Bagels, Dolce Dough, Chick Fil A, CJ’s, and V-Pizza, donated or discounted meals for our group. We were able to offer excursions like boat rides, horseback riding, and kayaking to families that have never been able to do such things. The staff at Sea Palms Resort bent over backward for us, ensuring a pristine and perfect headquarters for 120 guests and volunteers. Bucket-list wishes were granted by our local harbor pilots and volunteers, Island Cinemas made room for us on a rainy day, and Neptune Park Pool and the Casino were perfect venues for our evening family events. It was truly a joy to share so many of our favorite amenities with these dear guest families.
One of the most special events of the week was our finale “parade” from Sea Palms to the beautiful Village Creek Landing for our benediction dinner. As my wife and I joined in the procession, our hearts were exploding with gratitude as we passed by dozens of our friends and neighbors lining the streets, showing support of Blue Skies with waves, cheers and homemade signs. Glynn County fire and police vehicles escorted the parade of decorated golf carts, and officers stayed at Village Creek to award each patient and sibling a courageous hero’s medal. Crabdaddy’s surprised us with a complete donation of the evening’s delicious meal, and we finished the week with fireworks at sunset. It could not have been a more glorious display of the warm hearts of our locals.
Later that night, one of our local officers made the following reflective comments on the Glynn County fire department’s Facebook page:
“The words courage and strength have become overused adjectives in our world. Yet the character, strength, and courage which these children and their siblings display is a level that very few of us will ever achieve. For us to be a brief part of their camp is a blessing beyond words…Thank you, kids, thank you families; God bless each and every one of you. We pray that your bodies are made whole and hope we can borrow a little of your strength to make us a better person.”
Indeed, we will continue to pray for the children of Blue Skies until there is a cure for childhood cancer. And next summer, we plan to host another week of camp right here. For now, we THANK YOU, Glynn County - St. Simons, the Golden Isles - for helping us be God’s hands and feet in loving service to these families. I am certain there is no other community in the world with such warmth and kindness. My family is incredibly blessed to call this place home.
To learn more about Blue Skies, visit: www.blueskiesministries.org
A special thanks to everyone who gave their time, gifts, and love...