OCEAN CITY – The 8th Annual Ocean City Air Show was headlined by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels this past weekend but prior to kicking off their official performance team members took some time out to visit families staying at the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s House by the Sea on Friday morning.
For Administrative Officer LTJG Phil Harper and AE2 Ben Thayer, this was their first time visiting Ocean City as well as working with the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation.
“Within our flight schedule pretty much every Friday we have the opportunity to go out, visit the local schools and have opportunities like this. This is overwhelmingly positive,” Thayer said of Believe In Tomorrow. “I am very happy to be here. It really moves the heart. It is a great program.”
Since arriving in Ocean City a couple of days earlier, Thayer said the community had been very welcoming.
“It has been a great experience,” AE2 Thayer said of Ocean City. “Beautiful beaches, the community has been kind to us, we have been able to sample the local cuisine and the seafood is great. I come from Florida, so I know what good seafood tastes like.”
Harper was happy to be at the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s House by the Sea to witness the smiles on the kids’ faces.
“[Believe In Tomorrow] is pretty incredible. We are going to spread the word and come back in the future. The message is in the organization itself, Believe In Tomorrow. For me, I grew up in a rough neighborhood and all you could do is believe in tomorrow, so hopefully by seeing myself and Petty Officer Thayer here they can know there is a tomorrow to believe in,” Harper said. “This is overwhelming and very positive for me. The families are happy to see us and we are happy to be here. This is one of those events that fell in our lap, and I am glad it did.”
Being stationed in Pensacola, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Harper felt right at home in Ocean City.
“It’s awesome so far,” he said. “I haven’t really had a chance to get around but hopefully that will change tomorrow after the Air Show.”
The families staying at the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s House by the Sea were able to catch a glimpse of the Blue Angels practicing on Thursday over the beach prior to meeting the team members on Friday morning.
Watching the Blue Angels practice the day prior was able to make the kids appreciate the meet and greet even more, said Jaime Reid, whose daughter Catherine has been diagnosed with Leukemia.
“This is great. Everything about being here has been a treat,” Reid said. “It is special to be here, and a cool opportunity for us to get away and for her [Catherine] to just be care free. It is just such a financial burden … but here so much is provided for us and we wouldn’t be able to do this without Believe In Tomorrow.”
Cameron Miller, who is in remission from Leukemia, has been looking forward to meeting the Blue Angels all week.
“He really wants to be in the Army when he grows up,” Cameron’s mom Stephanie Day said. “We were on the beach while they were practicing, and every time one would come over he would stop what he was doing and look up. This is amazing. It has given Cameron a chance to be open and happy, away from treatment and hospitals. Just to see a smile on his face every day has been really rewarding.”
The experience all together has been very supportive, Holly Murga said, whose daughter Gabby has been diagnosed with brain cancer.
“It is a great experience,” she said. “All of the families understand what everybody is going through, and we are here to help everyone out. Whenever you need something there is someone there to help out”.
Liz Ferm, mother to Alex who has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s T-Cell Lymphoma, called it a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I don’t think they realize how lucky they are. When they grow up and look at those pictures they will be like ‘wow, that’s pretty cool’,” Ferm said. “It is unbelievable experience. When your child has a critical illness your job becomes taking care of them and living in a hospital. You don’t really get to vacation or have any fun but here the kids are just able to relax and you can let kids be kids with other kids that are going through the same thing with their families.”
Patty Ali, whose daughter Victoria is in remission from a brain tumor, said her family has also been looking forward to the meet and greet all week as her husband served in the Navy.
“It is much needed rest and fun,” Ali said. “This is the first time Victoria has been able to participate in the fun, things like surfing. It has been a very emotional experience for me because she has been on the sidelines for years watching the other kids play, so it is great to see her be able to participate.”
Believe In Tomorrow expanded the beach respite program in 2000 by opening the five-unit, oceanfront Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea on 66th Street.
For more than 30 years, Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation has been a leader in pediatric hospital and respite housing services for critically ill children and their families providing over half a million individual overnight accommodations to these children and families, from every state in the U.S. and 76 countries worldwide. For more information visit www.believeintomorrow.org.