BETHEL — Local nonprofit Team Hailey Hugs hosted its 1st annual Go Gold festival on Saturday at the Bethel Common, and those who attended experienced lots of love and support — and, of course, hugs.
The parade early in the morning featured local clubs, fire departments, teams and businesses, all rallying to show support for children battling cancer.
Hailey Steward, the inspiration for Team Hailey Hugs and the driving force behind the “Go Gold” campaign, rode in the town of Gilead’s firetruck.
After the parade, when Hailey was wheeled onto the common by her mother, Tabaitha, an eruption of cheers filled the air, and everyone gathered around her to offer words of support, a handshake, or a hug.
The Rev. Kevin Bellinger led a prayer on the common for all the children fighting cancer.
“Make your mess a message, your test into a testimony,” Bellinger said. “When terrible things happen, it’s an opportunity to turn it into something good. Maybe we’re wrapped up something bigger than our own mess — maybe this isn’t meant to be tackled alone.”
Lisa Keim and Francis Head were there to present Gov. Paul LePage’s proclamation that Maine “go gold” for the month of September. Keim read the proclamation and Head presented a state flag to the Steward family, “to honor this day.”
Hailey’s father, John, and Tabaitha both spoke, and offered gratitude to the town for the support they have received, and also to their little girl, for her bravery.
“She gives me hope and strength every time I see her,” John said.
Tabaitha pleaded, with tears in her eyes, for people to keep up the fight for the 400 children being treated at the Maine Children’s Cancer Program in Scarborough, and all those across the country.
“Do everything you possibly can to protect these kids,” she said. “They need you.”
Amanda Jordan, Heather Groves and Tiffany Jordan, the instructors of Toe Tappin’ Jazz dance studio in Bethel, choreographed a special routine just for Hailey. It was performed by Chelsea Duclos, Gabrielle Groves, Lily Ryan and Autumn Harrison.
Julianna Sclafani of Harrison is a childhood cancer survivor, and supports the Go Gold mission, not only for herself and for Hailey, but also her little brother, Mikey, who passed away in 2013 after a fight with neuroblastoma.
Sclafani said during Mikey’s battle with cancer and her own, events like the Go Gold festival did not exist, but it would have made a huge difference if they had.
“(Events like this) make more people aware and they can lend their voice for those who have lost theirs,” said Sclafani, who was inspired by the support the town of Bethel has shown.
“This is amazing to see the whole community come together,” she said. “Communities like this are what will make a difference in the long run.”
Volunteer Missy Wakefield said almost everything for the event was donated by the local businesses and individuals.