Pine Lakes community hosts ‘Miles of Smiles’
For the last five years, members of the Pine Lakes Com-munity have provided a full day of fun for children with diagnosed cancer and blood disorders, coordinated through Candlelighters of Southwest Florida. This year Saturday, April 17, was the day for the big event.
Candlelighters is an independent self-supporting nonprofit charity serving all community children with cancer and blood disorders. The organization has operated in Florida since 1982.
“This is a day to make the children smile,” said Pine Lakes organizer Joe Monks of the picnic. “The children get to have a great day, the parents get to rest. We don’t mention disease and there are no rules – just fun. We call it ‘Miles of Smiles'”
Monks’ co-organizer was Bob Wirzburger, and both of their wives, Nilda Monks and Judy Wirzburger, are key players in hosting and running the big event. It was held Saturday, April 17, at Pine Lakes Country Club in North Fort Myers.
Audrey Jung was one of the 100-plus volunteers who orchestrated the event, serving at a ballet tutu station making the skirts for kids, along with volunteer Barbara Daley.
“This is all to give back to the community, and we love being with the kids,” said Jung.
Kids, including Miranda and Denise Sosa and Assta Keita, donned the tutus, and got face painting along with many other activities.
Another fun station was was a family affair. A photo button station was manned by the Monks’ son Joe and daughter-in-law Pamela Monks. Pictures of the children, their families and friends were made into buttons for the kids to wear and keep in remembrance of the special day.
A big hit guest was Ronald McDonald, who visited with the children and did a show.
He was a favorite of 4-year-old Cape Coral resident Kaden Meyers. Mom Rebecca Meyers said Kaden was having a great time at the event.
“He’s been in remission for over three years – he was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor when he was nine months old. He’s doing great now.”
“It was through the efforts of resident Pete Williams that we got Ronald McDonald and a donation of 105 meals for the kids in their goodie bags,” said Nilda Monks.
The North Fort Myers Fire District and the motorcycle group Blue Knights also interacted with the children. There was also a magic show by Terry The Trickster and karaoke fun was provided by Joe Garbino.
How did this picnic day start?
“The idea was proposed by resident Jerry Henry to do a hot dog day for Candlelighters children,” said Candlelighters Executive Director Klair Snellbaker. “Before the idea ever got on the table, Jerry passed away. It was his friends who, in the spirit of Jerry’s memory, wanted to make it happen and they did much more than just serving hot dogs.”
She said the dedicated residents and volunteers started planning this event a year ago, right after the last one.
The Candlelighters organization’s purpose is to provide support, education and opportunities for children with cancer and their family members to meet, share and support one another, and all services are cost free to registered members of Candlelighters.
Candlelighters exists on donations and fund raisers to provide regular services to children and families in a five county area.
“The funds we raise at Candlelighters go directly to help local families throughout the year,” said Snellbaker. “We provide monthly activities to help them take their minds off of treatment, medical bills and the concerns a parent has as their child makes regular visits to see their doctors. There is no cost to the families to participate.”
“Each week, Candlelighters also provides pizzas for the families who have a child who is inpatient at the hospital even the most finicky patient will try a slice of pizza. Teen Groups, Parent Nights, Broadway Shows, Sporting Events and more are hosted by Candlelighters throughout the counties we serve. It’s all part of taking care of the whole family throughout treatment.”
For more information on Candlelighters, visit CandlelightersSWFL.org or call (239) 432-2223.