Kayakers and paddle boarders will unite with canoeists this weekend at Willows Beach as Paddle for Health takes the helm from Kayak for a Cure.
“We opened it up to just about anything that paddles,” Don Lowther, volunteer organizer and founder of Paddle for Health. The event that shifted to Oak Bay from the Saanich Peninsula a few years ago, under the growing banner of Kayak for a Cure, slides into new realm with nearly 70 paddlers of myriad vessels signed on for the trip from Willows Beach to Gyro Park and back on Saturday.
“We’ll have a big crowd. Participant wise it will be the biggest one we’ve ever had,” said Lowther.
There were 44 kayakers last year and raised just over $20,000 for Inspire Health.
“I think opening it up to the canoeists made a big difference,” he added.
The benefitting agency changed this year as well. This year, the seventh annual paddling fundraiser will raise cash for the Vancouver Island chapter of the B.C. Childhood Cancer Parents Association.
A longtime volunteer with the Power to Be Adventure Therapy Society, Lowther was introduced to Susan Kerr, Vancouver Island liaison for BCCCPA. While he’d met her before, this time Lowther learned more about the association and the programs it offers.
The British Columbia Childhood Cancer Parents Association is a registered non-profit charitable society whose mission is to help families who have children with cancer, and who are struggling financially, by providing them with aid through the Family Financial Aid Program.
“It was a perfect match,” he said. “They need to raise money to help out with their Vancouver Island program.”
The BCCCPA launched a new family support program in March 2014 “to provide targeted services for families who have a child with cancer here on Vancouver Island,” said Kerr.
“It is really a community program and everybody’s really stepped up … families need emotional support as well. They need outreach as well as money. They need to be able to connect with other families, or just be out and doing things in the community.” Kerr said. “When you look at it, it’s a journey the entire family goes on … This way treating the family as a unit benefits the child in the long run. If you have a healthy family unity you can support the child.”
The programs include emergency assistance, where for example, Kerr as a patient liaison working with hospitals and staff get families grocery, fuel and phone cards “to give families in urgent need a little bit of breathing room.”
There are also family support programs that include arts and crafts, outdoor adventure, information meetings and retreats.
“I’ve found these really important because families can connect and recharge … outside of hospital walls,” said Kerr. Onsite support during treatment could include things such as hospital cafeteria vouchers. They also fund the Victoria General Hospital Child Life department with books, craft supplies, toys and electronics
“This program would ensure that Child Life always has resources for the kids,” Kerr said. “What we need for the entire year to run this program is $50,000. We’re getting there … bit by bit.”
As of Tuesday, the Paddle for Health fundraiser was just shy of $14,000 raised. The event scored an online promotion through Chimp Technology (see chimp.net/groups/team-super-cool).
“Every dollar somebody donates to BCCCPA, it’s matched dollar-for-dollar right now,” Lowther said. “We’ll keep the fundraising page to the end of the month.”
Paddle day promises to be filled with smiles, swag and inspiration alongside snacks and lunch on Saturday (Sept. 6) with registration at 8:30 a.m. and the launch at 9:30 a.m. The group leaves from Willows Beach and makes its way through Oak Bay around Cattle Point into Cadboro Bay, landing at Gyro Park for a stretch and snack. Paddlers will retrace strokes back to Willows for a barbecue lunch from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. all in support of children and their families living with the challenges of cancer.
“It’s not a race, so anybody can go. You don’t have to be an experienced paddler. Quite often most of the people are first time paddlers,” said Lowther, who expects a variety of ages as well. “They’re all out there just to enjoy the outdoors and spend a day taking part in a healthy fundraising opportunity.”
Bring your own kayak, canoe or standup board, or register to paddle with a vessel provided.
Visit them online to register or donate.