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Pine Lakes community again treats Candlelighters children and families

April 15, 2011
By ANDREA GALABINSKI, nfmneighbor@breezenewspapers.com

For the last seven years, members of the Pine Lakes community have provided a full day of fun for children with cancer and blood disorders, for Candlelighters of Southwest Florida.

This year, there was everything from primo rides on motorcycles and golf carts, to fishing, visits from pirates, fun fire officials, Ronald McDonald and more.

"Pine Lakes did it again," said Candlelighters Executive Director Klair Snellbaker. "They made it the best possible day for a lot of families."

Article Photos

ANDREA GALABINSKI

Ventriloquist Brenda Stelzer, Georgie and Sydney Hoover at the Pine Lakes event.

Candlelighters is an independent self-supporting nonprofit charity serving children with cancer and blood disorders. The organization has operated in Florida since 1982.

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 survives on donations and fund-raisers to provide regular services to children and families in a five-county area.

"With a struggling economy it is so important that other neighborhood communities like Pine Lakes support their local charities," she said.

Of the activities there on the Pine Lakes day there were many favorites.

"They liked the fishing, they loved playing tennis and riding the motorcycles and golf carts," she said.

Three of only the many group of tireless organizers of the event are Joe and Nilda Monks and Bob Wirzburger.

Nilda Monks is always everywhere, making sure events, food and fun abound.

"This is our seventh year doing this event," Joe Monks said. "The people of Pine Lakes are very generous with their time. Most of our residents, when they are here, are grandparents without their grandchildren. They adopt the Candlelighter children for the day. They'll do anything to make this work."

Numerous Pine Lakes members pitched in to make it a perfect day, along with community agency supporters.

Fire investigator Frank Rizzo, of The North Fort Myers Fire District, brought radio controlled Freddie The Fire Truck to the event.

"We look forward to this every year," he said. "If we can make the kids smile, we did our job."

Children said a lot of the volunteers like Rizzo were their heroes.

"They are our heros," Rizzo said.

The children were thrilled to get to ride on the motorcycles, sometimes for their first time, driven by the Blue Knights. The Blue Knights are an international law enforcement motorcycle club, who gave many children a thrill being driven on the back of their bikes around Pine Lakes.

"It was like going on a roller coaster," Kiefer Cross of Cape Coral said.

Volunteer Knight Johnny Haas has volunteered at the event since 1997, taking the children out on his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.

"It's always a great day," he said.

"It's our way to give back to the community, to help present the children a wonderful atmosphere for the day," said Blue Knights key organizer Jay Miranda.

Ventriloquist Brenda Stelzer from Naples brought several "guests," including "Georgie" who talked through her to the guests. Young Sydney Hoover from Cape Coral enjoyed the act.

"It's fabulous, a great day to come out and spend time with the family," said mother Jennifer.

Mother Kathy Bender came with husband Mark and son Luke to bring 6-year-old Rachel Bender to the event.

Rachel had to wear a mask since she had just gotten out of the hospital, but her eyes were all smiles.

"She has multiple conditions, but the main thing we are dealing with is Crohn's disease," said Kathy Bender.

Her daughter goes weekly to the hospital on an outpatient basis, but right before the event, she was admitted Friday through Tuesday.

"It's a daily challenge, but she's very strong, a very positive kid," she said.

According to organizers, one of the big goals of the day is to also let the family have fun, and release stress.

"It (the illness) does cause stress in the family," said Bender. "There are times when you feel hopeless, but you can't lose hope. We're working to get her into remission. We want her to have a normal life. She is a loving, generous and kind soul."

Pirates were popular guests. Captain Stitch, or Timothy Pratt, showed up with his macaw Honey Bell, a rescue bird. He is with Pirates Plunder out of Fleamasters in Bonita Springs. He was accompanied by "Porter Master Joker," who brought his bird, Odd.

Pratt said seeing the children was personally important to him.

"I've been missing a leg since I was 10 years old, and been through children's hospitals like many of these children. I, on occasion, go to these hospitals just to put a smile on their faces," he said.

A big thank you went out to the Del Tura Publix store.

"Publix Assistant Manager Jason Green could not have been more helpful," said Nilda Monk.

Other thanks went to Ronald McDonald, North Fort Myers Fire & Rescue District, the Blue Knights and Affordable Golf Carts of North Fort Myers, who all did much to make the day.

"This year we also had the Fort Myers Police Department here fingerprinting kids for parents, and the Sheriff's Office VOICE," said Wirzburger. "Ever year it gets easier because the word has spread on the event, and people call us to volunteer."

One individual that is missed each year is the late Jerry Henry, who came up with the idea to do this, said Wirzburger.

"Every year at the end, we go to the pool and let go a white balloon. I swear it goes over Jerry's house every time," he said.

The weather is always prefect for the annual event.

"It has never rained, in all these years," he said.

There was a perfect ending for the prefect day.

"One child said it was the best day of their life," Wirzburger said.

For more information on Candlelighters, go to CandlelightersSWFL.org or call 432-2223.

 
 

 

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