Martha’s Vineyard walkers take on cancer

Cruising around the Island these few precious May days, one tends to see a lot of pink. Magnificent magnolias, flowering cherry trees, dogwoods, and crabapple trees have suddenly bloomed all at once, adding fresh vibrant strokes of color to the welcome greenness of Vineyard spring.

Last weekend, travelers along the Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown were treated to an equally eye-catching pink spectacle — dozens of walkers in groups or pairs, moms with strollers, kids on bikes, and even one skateboarder dressed in various shades of pink, helped to raise funds for an organization focused on raising money for cancer research and aid.

The MV Goes Pink annual walk for cancer support attracted around 70 walkers this year for the ten-mile loop from the parking lot at Lola’s restaurant to the Edgartown lighthouse and back. In the process, they raised over $10,000 for two organizations — the MV Cancer Support Group and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.

The event is the highlight of a month-long fundraising campaign that includes soliciting donations through an online website, community outreach at local supermarkets, and encouraging local businesses to contribute proceeds from sales over the Mother’s Day weekend to the cause.

This is the 7th year that the organization has held the walk and fundraising initiative, and the number of walkers doubled from last year, due in part to the beautiful weather. Organizers and veteran walkers noted that the event has taken place in rain and storms for the last few years. Everyone involved was thrilled that, despite gloomy forecasts, the weather cooperated this year.

The majority of the money — 90 percent — goes to the MV Cancer Support Group, an organization that provides financial assistance to Islanders battling cancer and their families. Board president Myra Stark, who helps with the walk registration every year, says, “We are devoted to raising money to give back to Island residents in distress.”

The support group has given more than $40,000 to those in need over their 25-year history, but there is always a need for more. “Unfortunately people’s needs get bigger and bigger every year,” Ms. Stark said.

MV Goes Pink decided a few years ago to give the bulk of their fundraising proceeds to the local organization rather than a 50/50 split as they have in the past, according to Carol Arenzabe, one of the core members. She added that the Susan G. Komen Foundation was chosen as the other beneficiary because of low administrative costs.

Ms. Arenzabe explains the genesis of MV Goes Pink, “A group of women got together and decided we wanted to make a difference on the Island. We wanted to help Islanders and reach out into the greater community.” The current group numbers around 20 and they meet once a week for a discussion group.

Among the walkers on Saturday were 20-year-old Kate Kram and 17-year-old Ashleigh Dexter who were both participating for the first time. “A couple of people in my family have died of cancer, and I thought it would be a good way to give back,” Ms. Kram said. “And get in shape.”

Veteran walker and MV Goes Pink supporter Julie Williamson has walked for the past three years with her friend Debbie Regan. Joined by another friend this year, they are always surprised at how quickly the walk goes by as they spend the time chatting and laughing, waving to motorists who honk encouragingly as they pass by, and greeting other walkers on the way back.

“We just keep saying this is the best way to start the day,” Ms. Williamson said. “I always look forward to doing it. It’s for a wonderful cause. You either know somebody who has been helped by the Cancer Support Group or who will be someday.”

Volunteer Sara Ahren was in charge of driving participants who couldn’t do the entire walk back from the lighthouse. She says, “It was wonderful. There were some survivors who did the walk. Everyone’s walking for a different reason and that really touched me.” She also helped out with the two-week fundraising drive in front of the Stop & Shop in Edgartown and was heartened by the enthusiastic response, “People who can’t walk will drop five or ten dollars in for their neighbors or for someone they’ve lost. It’s the sharing of that humanity and the willingness to help their friends and loved ones to the best of their ability, and it’s just beautiful.”

Stars to light up cancer group

Next Thursday, May 19, the MV Cancer Support Group will celebrate its silver anniversary with the annual An Evening Under the Stars gala, the group’s major fundraiser. Every penny raised goes directly to Island cancer patients and their families. The group is staffed entirely by volunteers, so there is no overhead.

Held this year at the Granary Gallery on Old County Road in West Tisbury, the evening will feature choice hors d’oeuvres, beverages, and music by Mike Benjamin. Tickets are $100. For more information, call 508-696-9849.