The Busby family has been through a difficult journey. In 2015, Chris and Cassie Busby were young parents with three little ones. Life was good but chaotic, then their son Chase got sick.
Over the next few weeks, they discovered that the then preschooler had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. From there, the little boy endured intense chemotherapy, as well as pricks, prods and pokes from other treatments and testing.
But in 2018, the Busby’s received the news they were so hoping to hear. Chase was in remission and his chemo was ending. It was a moment of overwhelming gratitude for the family. And since that time, they’ve actively worked to support others who are facing that battle.
One of the organizations they’ve been involved with over the years is a nonprofit called Blue Skies. The ministry allows families of pediatric cancer patients to enjoy free week away from all of the stresses of treatment. They attended the Florida-based retreat as guests in 2016 and 2017. During the period, they were able to tuck their cares away and really enjoy time together.
“As a family battles cancer, there are three main challenges: the medical crisis, the financial challenges and the emotional grind. For our family, Blue Skies provided us spiritual and emotional support when we needed it the most,” Chris Busby said.
“Blue Skies brings you to a place where the entire family is supported with love and caring and the day-to-day worry of pediatric cancer takes a back seat. All of the guest families have a child actively going through treatment. As you interact with the families you find similar stories, similar heartaches and similar joys that are hard to find anywhere else.”
The family has also joined Blue Skies as volunteers twice — in 2018 and 2019. That, Busby says, was also extremely rewarding.
“We have met amazing new friends as both guests and volunteers. As a volunteer, it is a wonderful opportunity to serve in a ministry as a family. So often volunteer ministries are geared toward single or small groups of a family,” he said.
“We have opportunities to go on mission trips in youth ministry, we can serve as adults in different capacities, but rarely do we get to serve as a family. Blue Skies involves the whole family and gives everyone a vital role to play as a volunteer.”
For both the Busbys and other families who volunteered with Blue Skies, the program offered so much that they started thinking of hosting the retreat on St. Simons Island. Local volunteers Maryellen and Page Aiken, who are friends with the Busbys and also members of the same church — Wesley United Methodist — started exploring the options.
“Historically, the camp is located at Port Saint Joe, Fla. They bring in volunteers to serve the family for a week at the beach. They host a lot of related activities throughout their time there ... they have special themes and excursions,” Maryellen said.
The children also sing devotional songs and pray for healing along the way. Volunteers are on hand to support them in every way during the period.
“It’s really about serving and loving on these families,” Page said. “There’s so much stress that comes with having a child with cancer. It takes a toll emotionally and spiritually. It impacts the marriage and the siblings have to take a back seat.”
While the program focuses on the young patients, the entire family is free to relax and recharge.
“It’s really an amazing thing. They kids can play ... the siblings too. The dads get together and find roles like cooking or fishing and the moms get involved with activities. They get to meet kindred spirits, all of whom are going through the same thing,” Page said. “It’s really for every member of the family. They’re able to feel normal and totally rest for a week.”
While COVID forced the program to be shelved in 2020, it is officially back on — and thanks to the work of supporters like Busbys and the Aikens, will be held on St. Simons Island.
“We’ve been involved for a while and about 20 volunteers from here have been going to Florida for years. We thought, ‘Why not have it here? We would love to share this place.’ So we talked to the director and Blue Skies will have the week of camp here. We are so excited about that,” Maryellen said.
Area businesses have stepped up to offer lodging, excursions and food for the families during their stay. Sea Palms has agreed to serve as the base of operations and offer rooms for 60 participants.
“Sea Palms has been amazing. So they will be able to be there and have the pool. We also have the Beach Club. Then Village Creek Landing is going to host them for a night,” Page said. “They’re going to do a dolphin tour with Cap Fendig. There will be dinner one night at Gascoigne. Sandy Bottom Bagels and Crab Daddy’s have offered to donate food.”
Donations to cover costs are still being accepted through https://www.classy.org/campaign/blue-skies-at-st-simons/c306154. Businesses are also welcome to offer any items for the families.
“The ministry is completely nonprofit and is entirely voluntary,” Page said. “We are really excited to host these families with the love and support of the community.”
“We’re so excited and blessed to be hosting Blue Skies on St. Simons Island and so grateful to our community for its support,” Maryellen added.