Every year, thousands of children across America are diagnosed with cancer, an often life threatening illness that remains the leading cause of death by disease for children and young adults.  The causes of these cancers are still largely unknown and although new discoveries are leading to innovative treatments and an increase in survival rates, this heartbreaking illness continues to place an undue burden on both patients and their families.

At least one organization in our local area is working to combat this – Lending Hearts. With a mission to provide emotional and social support to children and young adults with cancer and their families, the nonprofit offers free memorable events entered around arts, culture, health, wellness & education, in partnership with many local agencies.  In essence, lending their hearts to enhance, enrich and embrace the lives of kids with cancer.

This past Sunday Lending Hearts took to the skies for their Kites Take Flight for Childhood Cancer, presented by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Allegheny Health Network.  The event chaired by Dr. James Betler, DO, Michele Eichler , and Jamie Guerry, kicked off at noon at Shady Side Academy Athletic Field.  Locals joined WPXI-TV’s Cara Sapida to create awareness for Childhood Cancer Month which is in September.

“The concept for this event immediately came to mind when we created our logo,” said Founder & Executive Director, Vasso Paliouras.  “I wanted to have a unique event that brings together families and the community to raise awareness of childhood cancer.  One that provide feelings of support, hope, friendship and allows for that much needed release just like letting that kite fly!  It is an event that embodies our Lending Hearts programming and mission.”

Festivities kicked off with a three hundred plus balloon lift, with two hundred of those balloons representing the average number of newly diagnosed cases of childhood cancer at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC each year.  “Add to that the number of children and young adults seen for years after their diagnosis,” said Vasso, “and all of them are the youth of our Lending Hearts Family.”

The event which was free to participants has plenty of fun for guests thanks to local business sponsors.  Covestro provided their own hands-on science experiments while Snapology provided interactive Lego/brick play.  Guests could also grab a bite from the Mac and Gold Food Truck and then join Highmark and Allegheny Health Network in some table and  on field games.

Guests were able to bring kites or purchase one onsite for $5.00 for the creative kite competition with guest  judge, meteorologist, WPXI’s Valerie Smock.

The event is a favorite of Lending Heart volunteers and families and Kites Takes Flight event chair, Jamie Guerry, was quick to cite why.  “As a young adult cancer survivor, being a part of Lending Hearts is a great way for me to give back to the community with a group that helped me in difficult times. Being able to plan an event like Kites Take Flight, that spreads awareness of what we do to support families and children is so rewarding,” said Jamie.  “These families are going through such trying times.  I want them to know that there is a group of people who want to support them and that they don’t have to walk through this alone. I was fortunate to have Lending Hearts help me and want other families to feel that same happiness.”

Board Treasurer and Event Chair, Michele Eichler seconded that sentiment. “Since joining Lending Hearts as a Board Member in June of 2013, it has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my life personally,” said Michele.  “Being a source of joy and happiness for our families who are going through such a stressful and emotional time is what makes me want to continue to support such an important organization.  I constantly hear from our Lending Heart families how much they appreciate our events and they look forward to them each month.  I have seen Lending Hearts grow so much over the past 3 years and it makes me so proud to be a part of such a special group of people.”

For more information on how you can lend your heart to a child or young adult diagnosed with cancer, visit their website at http://lendinghearts.org/.