Katie Wilkin’s life is a busy one. She has two young daughters, who keep her on her toes, plus a husband and a job to manage.
Making sure everything and everyone is in order is a tall task. But in addition to the daily demands, Wilkin also focuses on a very important cause — curing childhood cancer.
In 2015, Wilkin’s daughter, Alexa Hartenstein, passed away after a valiant battle against brain cancer. While the five-year-old’s life was tragically cut short, she left an enormous imprint on the community.
Through the organization Wilkin started, Team Alexia — Fighting Back, they raised both funds for families dealing with cancer and awareness of childhood cancer within the community. One of the events they started — Redfern Goes Gold — aims to do both. The annual block party for the St. Simons Island shopping district takes place in September — National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Restaurants and other businesses often show support by decorating with gold ribbons, the color that represents the month. Some have also offered a portion of proceeds that day, donating them to the nonprofit Wilkins founded, which also works with CURE Childhood Cancer, a larger organization that shares their goal.
For Wilkin, it’s been incredible watching the success of Redfern Goes Gold over the past five years.
“This event started out as a way for the community to come together to support our family when Alexa was in treatment. It was amazing to see how many people loved our sweet girl,” Wilkin said.
“After she passed away, I knew that I wanted to keep sharing that love with other families just like ours, and I’m so thankful that Chaney and Ryan Pope (owners of Gnat’s Landing) felt the same way. Without their support, Redfern Goes Gold could not have grown into what it is today.”
The event has become a place for families of children battling cancer to go and be supported. It also allows the community a central location to show up and do something meaningful — shower love on those who need it most.
For Wilkin, Redfern Goes Gold has become everything she had envisioned.
“We’ve had the opportunity to not only show love and support to many other families in our community who have been affected by childhood cancer, we have also been able to spread awareness too. It’s still hard to believe that this is our fifth year,” she said.
The event will return from 5 to 10 p.m. Sept. 20 at Gnat’s Landing. As in previous years, it will feature food, fun and entertainment. There will be activities for children plus a raffle for adults. Of course, one of the most important aspects for the families of children with cancer is simply witnessing the community’s support.
That is something that has continued to propel Wilkins on her own challenging journey.
“This event is still so important to me and my family for many reasons. It’s given us a way to keep Alexa’s story alive. I knew when she died that I couldn’t let that be the end. She had so much love left to give, and it is my job as her mom to continue that for her,” Wilkin said.
“She loved doing for others, even during the worst parts of her journey. She never lost her smile or her amazing way of spreading joy to anyone she came in contact with. It’s also given us a way to be there for other families who find themselves on a similar journey.”
It has allowed her to keep Alexa’s spirit alive while letting other families battling cancer know that they are not alone. That, she notes, makes all the difference for those living this heartbreaking reality.
“When Alexa was diagnosed, I had never met another family like ours. It’s very isolating and it’s hard to feel ‘normal.’ Having people who you can connect with is a very important part of the journey when you have a child diagnosed with cancer,” she said.
“The phrase ‘it takes a village’ it absolutely true. I am always so honored to be able to share in each child’s journey and to share their stories. They are the true heroes.”
Of course, even heroes need some help every now and then. That’s why Wilkin feels it’s so important that the community turn out for the Redfern Goes Gold event this year. But, if they can’t make the date, there is another important way to show this support.
Gold bows for mail boxes are being sold once again. They are $25 and can be purchased by check or online at wesleyssi.org/gold-bows. They may be picked up at Live Oak Fitness, 545 Skylane Road or at Wesley United Methodist Church, 6520 Frederica Road, both on St. Simons Island.
Simply seeing the gold bows throughout the community really buoys the spirits of children fighting cancer, as well as their family members. Whether it’s placing a bow on the mailbox or attending Redfern Goes Gold, lending that support is critical in helping these families.
“We all want to help in some way, and (these) are great way to do just that. We’ve all felt the love from the community and we know the importance of raising money to help support these families during their journey. It’s just what our hearts are called to do,” Wilkin said.