Grand County " Shining Stars provides child patients, families welcome respite with river trip |

Grand County " Shining Stars provides child patients, families welcome respite with river trip

“When your child is sick, it’s the most devastating and all-encompassing thing that any parent will ever go through,” said Mary Moffett, mother of 10-year-old Ariana, who suffers from Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

But Ariana doesn’t seem to want to talk about that, not today.

Instead, she talks about school and other activities with her friend Abby Harris, the girl she met last winter on a ski trip.

Abby has spina bifida, a birth defect that forces her to walk with braces. By the time Abby was 11, she’d already been through eight surgeries.

The girls sit next to each other eating lunch and swapping stories.

What is in store for them today is not the regular rigmarole of doctors and treatment talk.

In fact, it’s as far from it as a person could hope.

Today is a day on the Colorado River, a day filled with rafting water-wars, rock jumps into cool river pools, camaraderie and the rare and rosy gift of genuine fun.

And during it all, they’ll have the chance to see their parents let loose a little, too.

Abby and Ariana became “fast friends,” Moffett, of Laramie, Wyo., said, through Shining Stars, a nonprofit organization founded by Winter Park National Sports Center for the Disabled veterans Kathy Gingery and Hal O’Leary.

The organization grants children suffering from life-threatening diseases a new outlook on life through experiences attainable only because of volunteers and supporters of Shining Stars.

As many as 145 patients and their families attended the organization’s largest summer event in Winter Park last week, filled with five days of activities.

They ‘just get each other’

“The kids, when they’re all together like this, they can ask questions such as ‘how is your treatment going or your chemo?’ Or, they just get each other,” said Abby’s mother Christina Harris of Carbondale. “And they hang out, and they don’t care about talking about it because they all know.”

A child’s sickness can have a crushing effect on a family.

Gingerly has seen some lose their homes to medical bills and “divorce is quite frequent,” she said.

At little or no cost to families, Shining Stars offers opportunities away from it all ” if only for a glimmer of time.

“It’s so important, really, that these may be the only vacations these families could ever take,” said Gingery.

Parents find solace in meeting other parents with similar hardships.

And children, who many times are ostracized in public schools for their differences, Gingery said, find easy companionship during Stars outings.

And siblings of sick children “take a back seat and are often neglected,” Gingery said, “foregoing everything such as birthday parties and new clothes for school as all the financial and emotional resources go to the sick child. …Communities often need programs for the family unit, not just the sick child.”

When everyone joins together, “That’s where the magic happens, I believe,” she said.

In Grand County, 30 key businesses annually contribute to Shining Stars events, but the organization always invites more. Gingery said Shining Stars is only limited by funds as more kids are diagnosed every year.

Since the organization’s inception seven years ago, about 1,200 children and family members have been served. In 63 Colorado towns and 10 states, 94 percent of total expenditures are for programs that enrich diagnosed children’s lives.

“Things like this are just huge perks in our lives,” Harris said about the rafting trip arranged through Adventures in Whitewater of Kremmling on Saturday, as well as Shining Stars as a whole.

“It’s a huge lifeline. It got Abby out of a depression that she’d had for two years. And it helped her to become more independent, which she really needed. And, it helped her to find a best friend.”

The girls’ mothers also have become friends, and the families have plans to visit.

“I liken it to the Make-A -Wish Foundation because you are making a huge difference in the life of a child who is going through absolutely the worst things you could go through, and it does make a huge difference,” Harris said.

As one volunteer Nancy Dahl of Santa Fe, N.M., put it, the outings transcend the sadness brought about by sickness and unlock the kid inside.

“You look beyond the baldness, and you look beyond the missing limbs,” she said, “and suddenly you are looking at the essence of a kid that comes through.”

Asked if she ever asks why such hardship is happening to her family, Ariana’s mother was quick to answer.

“No. You don’t go there. The situation is what it is. What I ask is, how can we get through this the best that we possibly can? How can we make life the best we possibly can for Arie, for my son Francis, and for me and my husband as well?”

” To reach Tonya Bina, e-mail or 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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