BETHEL — The third annual Team Hailey Hugs walk-a-thon took place on Saturday at Crescent Park elementary school in Bethel, with the turnout this year better than ever, and so were the donations.
Team Hailey Hugs was created by the Steward family of Bethel, and some of their friends, in honor of their daughter, Hailey Steward, the cancer-fighting warrior who inspired the entire state of Maine to “Go Gold” for the month of September, signifying childhood cancer awareness.
Hailey died last week after a five and a half year battle with leukemia. But in her fight, she created a legacy that has been passed on to the rest of her “warriors,” who are determined to find a cure for cancer, and are even more dedicated to their cause after Hailey’s passing.
“Brady’s going to take the torch from Hailey,” said Renee Wakefield, mother of Brady Wakefield, 3, also fighting cancer, but his mother said his latest scan came back clear.
The passion to beat cancer was evident in the numbers at the walk-a-thon, with about 100 people registering to walk.
“The Go Gold event (on Sept. 2) really helped kick the (walk-a-thon) off, and we’ve been promoting it a lot more this year,” said Michelle Walker, treasurer of Team Hailey Hugs.
The nonprofit did not have a fundraising goal this year, said Linda Taylor, one of the founding mothers of the group, but donations were pouring in.
Before the walk had even started, Taylor said, they had raised about $2,000 and had received a hefty donation of $835 raised by Bob and April Savard of Vermont.
People in the walk-a-thon each had their own reasons for showing support, but all were somehow connected to Hailey.
Marie Keane teaches fifth grade at Crescent Park, and said Hailey would have been in fifth grade this year. She walked to show her support with her friend, Linda Gamble.
Natalie Charette and Parker Gilman, both 7, said they were walking because they “really miss Hailey.”
Natalie’s mother, Renee Charette, used to teach at Crescent Park and had Hailey’s brother, Jared, as a student in the fourth grade.
Kamilah Villanueva, 11, knew Hailey and wants to raise awareness about childhood cancer.
“The whole community has really come together to support this cause,” Charette said.