The Busby family has had a difficult journey. In 2015, Chris and Cassie Busby were young parents with three little ones. Life was good but chaotic when their son Chase got sick.
In the weeks that followed, they discovered that the then toddler had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. From there, the little boy went through intense chemotherapy, as well as shots, shots, and shots from other treatments and tests.
But in 2018, the Busbys received the news they so hoped to hear. Chase was in remission and his chemo was coming to an end. It was a moment of overwhelming gratitude for the family. And since then, they have actively worked to support others facing that struggle.
One of the organizations they’ve been involved with over the years is a non-profit called Blue Skies. The ministry is allowing families of pediatric cancer patients to enjoy a free week away from all the stress of treatment. They attended the Florida retreat as guests in 2016 and 2017. During the period, they were able to put their worries away and really enjoy the time together.
“When a family is battling cancer, there are three major challenges: the medical crisis, the financial challenges and the emotional grind. For our family, Blue Skies provided us with spiritual and emotional support when we needed it most,” said Chris Busby.
“Blue Skies brings you to a place where the whole family is supported with love and care and where the daily worries about childhood cancer are placed in the background. All host families have a child who is actively undergoing treatment. When you interact with the families, you find similar stories, similar heartaches, and similar joys that are hard to find anywhere else.”
The family has also volunteered with Blue Skies twice – in 2018 and 2019. That was also extremely rewarding, Busby says.
“We met great new friends, both guests and volunteers. As a volunteer, it is a wonderful opportunity to serve as a family in a ministry. So often voluntary ministries are aimed at single or small groups of a family,” he said.
“We have the opportunity to go on mission trips in the youth ministry, we can serve as adults in a variety of capacities, but we can rarely serve as a family. Blue Skies involves the whole family and gives everyone a crucial role as a volunteer.”
For both the Busbys and other families who volunteered at Blue Skies, the program offered so much that they started thinking about organizing the St. Simons Island retreat. Local volunteers Maryellen and Page Aiken, who are friends with the Busbys and also members of the same church – Wesley United Methodist – began exploring the options.
“The camp is historically located in Port Saint Joe, Florida. They bring in volunteers to serve the family at the beach for a week. They organize a lot of related activities during their time there… they have special themes and excursions,” Maryellen said.
The children also sing devotional songs and pray for healing along the way. Volunteers are ready to support them in any way they can during the period.
“It’s really about serving and loving these families,” Page said. “There is so much stress that comes with having a child with cancer. It takes its toll emotionally and spiritually. It has consequences for the marriage and the siblings must remain in the background.”
While the program focuses on the young patients, the whole family is free to relax and recharge.
“It really is something wonderful. The kids can play… the siblings too. The fathers get together and find roles such as cooking or fishing and the mothers get involved in activities. They meet like-minded people who are all going through the same thing,” Page says. “It really is for every member of the family. They can feel normal and rest completely for a week.”
While COVID resulted in the program having to be suspended in 2020, it has officially started again – and thanks to the work of supporters such as Busbys and the Aikens, it will be held on St. Simons Island.
“We’ve been involved for a while and about 20 volunteers from here have been going to Florida for years. We thought, ‘Why not here? We would like to share this place.’ So we talked to the director and Blue Skies will have the week of camp here. We are so excited about that,” said Maryellen.
Businesses in the area have stepped up to offer lodging, excursions and food to the families during their stay. Sea Palms has agreed to serve as a base and offer rooms for 60 participants.
“Sea Palms was amazing. So they can be there and have the pool. We also have the Beach Club. Then Village Creek Landing will host them overnight,” Page said. “They are going to do a dolphin tour with Cap Fendig. One evening dinner is served in Gascoigne. Sandy Bottom Bagels and Crab Daddy’s have offered to donate food.”
“The ministry is completely non-profit and completely voluntary,” Page said. “We are very excited to welcome these families with the love and support of the community.”
“We are so excited and blessed to host Blue Skies on St. Simons Island and are so grateful to our community for its support,” Maryellen added.