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Candlelighters hold picnic for kids with cancer

By Staff | Apr 10, 2013

It’s a day where children with cancer and their families can spend a day without having to worry about being sick or chemotherapy, where the kids can just have fun and be kids.

About 300 Candlelighters and their families came to Pine Lakes Country Club on Saturday for the ninth-annual Children’s Day picnic, where children and their parents can enjoy a myriad of activities and enjoy some food.

“It’s a day where families can come out and have fun. There’s all kinds of activities and food, just all kinds of things,” said Klair Snellbaker, founder of the Candlelighters.

It started as a man’s idea for a simple hot dog day nearly a decade ago. Despite the fact he died before it got off the ground, Pine Lakes residents kept the idea going in his honor.

Today, it has turned into a mini-amusement park, with activities including a bounce house, pony rides, arts and crafts, face painting, motorcycle rides, karaoke, an ice cream station and much more.

“The community is great. We love working with them and enjoy being invited back here every year,” Snellbaker said.

The motorcycle rides were especially exciting, since many of the kids had never taken one. That warmed the hearts of the Blue Knights motorcycle club, a group of active and retired police officers.

“A lot have never ridden, so it’s a lot of fun for them,” said Ken Diersing of the Blue Knights. “We enjoy it too because you can’t just go anywhere and jump on for a ride. It’s different from an amusement park.”

Kids also got to check out a fire truck, always a thrill for the young ones.

“Any time we can help out a kid, and put a smile on their face, it’s well worth our time,” said Frank Rizzo of the North Fort Myers Fire Deptartment.

And then there was the appreciation of the parents and kids for whom the Candlelighters is all about.

Marcela Zapata, who had her son Aaron, 1, ride his first pony, said the organization has been a godsend for the family and her son, Maximo, 3, who has leukemia, but is in remission.

“It’s a day for the kids to be out of the house, or the hospital. Something different where they don’t have to worry about medication,” Zapata said. “It’s hard to see your kid have cancer and go through all these procedures. It’s nice to forget about all that and just be normal.”

Destiny Savakinus brought her three boys, one of which, Chansen, 12, is fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia for a second time.

She said there is no end to the generosity.

“This is a great event. The kids are having a great time and there’s no end to the fun. I’m so impressed with what they’ve put on,” Savakinus said. “We’re constantly doing fun things, and he’s here doing things with people who are going through the same thing he is.”

Chansen said he’s winning the fight, although it has been a struggle, especially with the radiation and chemotherapy he’s had to endure.

Which is why he can fully appreciate what the Candlelighters do.

“I can’t explain how grateful I am. I thing I love the most is that everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling, it’s perfect,” Chansen said. “Kids like me get to meet other kids who are in my situation, and we have sympathy and it really makes a difference.”

The Candlelighters of Southwest Florida have supported local children with cancer and their family members for 30 years. They host educational programs and bring children with cancer and blood disorders, along with their parents, together for fun and lasting memories.

The Candlelighters are a non-profit, local organization affiliated with the American Childhood Cancer Foundation.