(April 3, 2015) The Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House by the Sea will celebrate its 15-year anniversary next Saturday, April 11, with a gala at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront.
The event will begin at the Children’s House By the Sea on 66th Street at 5 p.m. with an open house and cocktail party that will last an hour. A condo unit will be on display for the tour and beer and wine will be offered.
“Some of the people who attend our events have never set foot on this property,” said Wayne Littleton, coordinator for the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Respite Housing Program. “Our goal is to showcase how the place has changed in 15 years and what the community’s donations have gone toward.”
At 6 p.m., the celebration moves next door, where a red carpet will lead guests up to the door of Holiday Inn.
“Jason [Gulshen, general manager of Holiday Inn Oceanfront] is a huge supporter of our organization. He wanted to host the event and after thinking it through, change is good, especially with their new restaurant, Touch of Italy,” Littleton said. “This year we wanted to think of ways to make our event unique and special.”
A family-style dinner from Touch of Italy will be included, in addition to entertainment from the Evasons.
Tickets to the black-tie optional event usually only cover gala expenses, which makes the activities and auction vital to organizers.
This year, guests can expect to see a martini bar, wine wall, mystery boxes, a chocolate fountain and photo booth, Littleton said.
There are numerous auction items up for grabs, including a wave runner donated by Pete Cycles, autographed sports memorabilia, a handmade Ocean City lighthouse replica, dinner for 10 provided by Sunset Grille and specialty dinners, including an open bar from Seacrets, to name a few.
The theme of this year’s event will be the memories made by children who have stayed at Believe in Tomorrow House in Ocean City the past 15 years.
“It’s serious, but a very happy place and the good thing about our video is it shows the success stories,” Littleton said. “You get to see the children all grown up, good looking and in college.”
Instead of a guest speaker, a video presentation will show attendees the year each child visited, their names, what Children’s House meant to them, their favorite activity in Ocean City and what activities they participated in while staying in the resort town.
Littleton has been sending emails, calling children and collecting pictures to illustrate their memories.
Believe in Tomorrow will bring back five families who have stayed there in the past, in addition to having a full house for the weekend.
“It’s been neat to contact the families,” Littleton said. “Some I have developed bonds with and we have kept in touch through the years, while others I have reconnected with. What a cool thing to bring back families.”
David Neith first visited Believe in Tomorrow’s House By the Sea when he was 10 years old when he was battling cancer, from 2002 to 2006. Now more than a decade later, Neith is 22 and in college.
“These were the only vacations we would take. I remember the wonderful feeling to spend time with my family in a non-stressful atmosphere,” Neith said. “Believe in Tomorrow always provided complimentary tickets. Once, we were guests of the Shorebirds. What a wonderful thing for the people of Ocean City to do. It always made us feel so loved and made a difference.”
Neith went on to list watching the ocean tide move in and out, riding bikes with his sister, seeing the horses on Assateague and playing “every mini golf course we could find” as some of the memories he made during trips to Ocean City.
“For the families who are guests of Believe in Tomorrow, the emotional support is as helpful as the financial support. My many thanks to Believe in Tomorrow, all the volunteers, Wayne and the people of Ocean City,” Neith said.
Dawson Smith’s leukemia was discovered at 2 years old and his family stayed at Believe in Tomorrow House three months after his diagnosis in 2003. They visited about six more times after their first getaway.
Smith was introduced to the beach for the first time and he enjoyed his parents burying him in the sand.
“He was only 2 and a half, but you could tell he was happy sitting on the beach,” said Smith’s mother, Tracie.
There were many starfish on the beach one year and he remembers flinging them back into the ocean. Smith liked to go miniature golfing during trips to Ocean City as well.
Smith and his best friend, Michael Buchanon, are both cancer survivors and were born two weeks apart. Buchanon came with the Smith’s to Ocean City on one of their vacations.
For 14-year-old Dawson Smith and his family, Believe in Tomorrow House was a place to get away and forget about the realities of life for a little while.
“You look at people like Wayne and others who rally around families and its touching,” Tracie Smith said.
Erin Phillips visited Believe in Tomorrow House for the first time during Christmas of 2001, just three months after she was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 8.
“It seemed like we lived in the hospital, but then Wayne came along and invited us out to Ocean City. The thought of getting away from this cancer world for even a couple days sounded wonderful,” said Erin’s father, Scott.
Walking into their apartment at the Children’s House By the Sea that Christmas was one of their favorite memories.
Phillips and her siblings were worried Santa would miss them by staying at the house.
“We opened the door and there standing in the corner of the living room was a fully decorated Christmas tree, all lit up, complete with presents. The whole apartment was decorated. We just couldn’t believe it,” Scott Phillips said.
Santa paid a visit to the children once the Phillips family settled in.
“The kids were so excited and had the biggest smiles on their faces. For that brief moment in time, cancer was forgotten about, hospitals were forgotten about. It was such a great relief mentally and physically to enjoy this time as a ‘normal’ family,” he added. “Mr. Wayne and all of the volunteers have done such an outstanding job in providing such an oasis of relaxation and happiness for the children and their families.”
Phillips spent her 21st birthday at the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House Gala last year and she just returned from New Zealand last week.
Upon leaving the house on one of her visits, Phillips left a letter to Wayne, which read, “Thanks so so so so so much for what you’ve done for me. It makes having cancer more enjoyable. I’ve really enjoyed having something to look forward to while still being sick. I really appreciate it. You will be kept close to my heart,” and she signed it with sending love.
Each year, Believe in Tomorrow gives out its Hero by the Sea award. Gabby Mancini, owner of Mancini’s Brick Oven Pizzeria & Restaurant in Fenwick Island, will be honored at the gala this year.
“He’s been a part of our organization for at least eight years and feeds two of our families every week at the restaurant,” Littleton said. “He treats our families like gold and will take the kids in the back to learn about pizza making. They add a personal touch and are extremely special people up there.”
All families who have stayed at the Children’s House in Ocean City were invited to attend the event on April 11.
The Believe in Tomorrow House by the Sea has received a Christmas card every year since 2002 from one of the families it has hosted and seeing these children grow up through the years helped Littleton determine this year’s theme.
Other stories such as David and Kelsey Neith, who fell in love with Littleton’s late dog Summer six years ago and whose favorite memory is the dolphin mailbox outside the 66th Street escape inspired the evening.
Only 200 tickets will be sold and the cost is $75 per person or $150 per couple. There were about 25 tickets remaining as of earlier this week. For more information or to buy tickets, call Littleton at 410-723-2842.
Erin Phillips celebrates her 21st birthday
at Believe in Tomorrow’s annual gala last year.
Photo Credit: Joann Phillips