Two-time MVP William Vanzela, center, goalie with the Baltimore Blast, is the chief champion of We Cancerve’s Goals for Grace, a fundraiser to benefit their Pediatric Patient Assistance Fund at Sinai Hospital.
Two-time MVP William Vanzela, center, goalie with the Baltimore Blast, is the chief champion of We Cancerve’s Goals for Grace, a fundraiser to benefit their Pediatric Patient Assistance Fund at Sinai Hospital. (Courtesy NeAnni Y. Ife)

If only kicking cancer were as easy as kicking a soccer ball!

Area youth are willing to give it a shot anyway, not because they think they’ll eradicate cancer from sick kids in Maryland; they’re doing it to raise money for a pediatric patient assistance fund that helps families of sick kids being treated at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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They’ve created an event called “Goals for Grace,” a soccer penalty-kick shootout Sunday at the Harford Sports Performance Center in Forest Hill.

Organized by three Harford County youth, the event honors their friend, Grace Callwood, 13, who fought and won her battle against Stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Grace finished chemo in 2014 and after years without a relapse, she expects to hear the word “cured” in February from her oncologist at Sinai.

“When kids get cancer, it’s hard for them and their families, and everything has to move fast. Sometimes they can’t stop to think about what they are going to do about all the normal things in their lives,” said Colin McAtee, 11, a rising 6th grade student at Patterson Mill Middle School in Bel Air. “Kids can’t control that they are sick. They can’t do as many of the cool things that most kids can do when they are in the hospital. Helping parents with what they need so they can spend more time with their kid while they are in the hospital and when they get out means that they can maybe forget in some ways for a while that their lives have to be different for a while.”

A penalty kick is essentially a single shot on the goal while it is defended only by a goalkeeper, usually from an opposing team. At the shootout, top scorers in three categories – elementary, middle and high school – will move on to shoot three penalty kicks against former Baltimore Blast Goalkeeper Phil Saunders. The top scorer in each age group against the celebrity goalie will receive a grand prize.

On hand at the event will be the current two-time Baltimore Blast Most Valuable Player William Vanzela, who is soon returning to the game after recent surgery for a torn adductor tendon in his groin.

Vanzela, who expressed a passion for community service, specifically, helping causes that support pediatric oncology, said he wants to be “the person that kids look up to” and wants them to “follow his lead.” He said his support of “Goals for Grace” is “a great example of giving back to the community.”

Youth ages 5 to 17 can register online at We Cancerve’s website, www.wecancerve.org and pay at the door on Sept. 9. Registration is $10 for individuals and $80 for a group of 12 people, and begins at 8:45 a.m. Even though the first competition for each category begins at 9 a.m., registration will remain open until 10 a.m.

“Upon arrival, participants will be directed to one of 8 stations, where they will shoot their 10 penalty kicks on a high school goalie. If not in the running of the ‘top scorers,’ participants will have plenty to do in the facility, including take photos with our MVP Vanzela, purchase raffle tickets for some really cool items including a signed hockey puck by the 2018 Stanley Cup Winners the Washington Capitals, or stay to cheer on the finalists,” explained Elizabeth Wesdock, a rising junior at C. Milton Wright High School. “The top three scorers from the elementary, middle and high school groups will win a prize and move on to shoot on celebrity goalie Phil Saunders at 11:45 AM. The event will conclude around noon with the top scorers from each group receiving a grand prize.”

No soccer experience is required to participate, McAtee said.

McAtee, along with fellow board members Mario Nandalal, 12, and Wesdock,16, spent the last part of their summer break planning this event; a sacrifice they say has been well-worth the time.

“This fundraiser is going to be a lot of fun. You get to run around, spend some time with someone who is famous, and give money to a great cause. That’s a good way to spend your day,” McAtee said.

There will be plenty to do that day, including raffles, a photo booth with the celebrity goalie and refreshments, some at a cost.

The event is in recognition of September as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and as National Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month.

According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization website, “Each year in the U.S. there are an estimated 15,780 children between the ages of birth and 19 years of age who are diagnosed with cancer. Approximately 1 in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday. Globally there are more than 300,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year.”

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From 2008 to 2012, there were 1,252 cases of cancer diagnosed in Maryland children younger than 20, according to the Maryland Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan 2016-2020.

Cancer is the number one cause of death by disease in children. It is responsible for more deaths than all other diseases combined.

The We Cancerve Pediatric Patient Assistance Fund at Sinai Hospital opened in 2016 with a $5,000 donation from Callwood, who was named a Peace First Fellow for her work with We Cancerve. Donations have slowly come in to the group’s GoFundMe page since, but they’re hoping this event will give the fund the boost it needs to make the most impact for families that need help the most.

The all-youth board of advisors of the nonprofit hopes to top $10,000 by 2019. The fund assists families of sick children with out-of-pocket expenses such as copayments, transportation costs, home care expenses, special food or equipment, parking fees, tolls, restaurant and grocery gift cards to help families and more.

Patients receiving help from this fund are seen at The Sinai Hospital Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, which is based in the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai. The 26-bed Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai is a state-of-the-art family-centered Children’s Hospital, which provides a broad spectrum of pediatric diagnostic, inpatient, post-surgical, intensive care, hematology and oncology, and outpatient services available to children, adolescents, and some young adults with pediatric diseases, from birth to age 26, including the vitally important accommodation for two parents to sleep in their child’s room. A large part of the Children’s Hospital is the newly renovated and constructed Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Outpatient Center, which began seeing patients in July 2010.

We Cancerve Movement is a foundation that creates giving opportunities that can be supported by the community to bring happiness to homeless, sick and foster children. To date, We Cancerve has donated Eggstra Special Easter gifts to more than 3,500 area homeless, sick and foster children since its first donation in 2012.

Under her leadership, We Cancerve has donated more than $10,000 in cash grants and $25,000 in products to nine hospitals, including Sinai Hospital in Baltimore and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air; 10 homeless shelters and transitional programs including Eastside Family Emergency Shelter, Harford Family House and Anna's House; local feeding ministries The Sharing Table and St. John's Episcopal Church's Cupboard; and three foster care group homes and an orphanage. Donations also include more than 200 new and like-new back-to-school clothes to homeless youth in We Cancerve's Threads of Hope initiative; more than 400 TransFUNers kits to help hospitalized children decorate their IV poles; and more than 140 pounds of school supplies to children in Maryland and Kenya, East Africa. This is just a sample of works We Cancerve's all-youth board of advisors has rendered to benefit homeless, sick and foster children.

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