By Maddy Vitale
Kim and Don Parker watched as children sang, danced, giggled, nibbled on frozen treats and soft pretzels, had their faces painted and played soccer.
The children likely didn’t realize what a positive impact they were making on the Parkers, of Newtown Square, Pa., and children with pediatric cancer, as they joined for a block party Sunday in Ocean City between Ocean and Wesley avenues in front of The Dance Place, 618 East Eighth Street.
The children were having fun among their friends and families and they were also continuing to preserve the legacy of a little girl, the Parker’s daughter, Hailey, who also liked to do those very same things.
In 2015, at just 11 years old, Hailey, died of brain cancer after a courageous battle.
Now in its fourth year, “Dancing For Hailey” celebrates Hailey’s life and remembers a child who loved ice cream, dancing and enjoyed spending summers visiting her grandparents in Ocean City.
More than 200 people joined together for the fundraiser. Music filled the streets. Kids danced. There was an assortment of goodies, demonstrations, a silent auction and other activities.
The proceeds will go to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a national childhood cancer foundation dedicated to raising funds for research into new treatments and cures for all children battling cancer.
Hailey left behind her parents. The Parkers have a 2-year-old son, Finn, who was born after Hailey had passed away.
“For us, Hailey’s memory is absolutely important,” said Don Parker. “But the important message really is that kids at a young age are doing something fun and they don’t feel like they are volunteering, but they are making a difference.”
New this year was the idea of giving proceeds from the fundraiser to someone other than to children. Joy Geller, a married mother from Ocean City who is battling breast cancer, will be the recipient.
The Parkers hope that someday in the future, the fundraiser could widen even more and branch out to provide scholarships to students and even give a “hand up” to struggling families.
But the Parkers need corporate sponsors, they said. They hope that by spreading the word, their message and Hailey’s memory will enable their fundraiser to grow and help more and more children and their families.
As the crowds grew during Sunday’s fundraiser, Kim Parker walked over to her husband and put her arm around him, then hugged her son.
She glanced at the energetic crowd.
“I feel like it gets bigger and bigger every year,” she said. “Ocean City is a small community with a big heart. The people just keep giving back.”
“Dancing For Hailey” was created by Kim Parker and her longtime friend, Dana Linthicum, of Ocean City, who is the chairwoman of the event committee.
Linthicum was rushing around Sunday, helping out wherever needed. In May, she remarked in an interview that the fundraiser is a “super fun day to celebrate all the things that Hailey loved.”
She continued, “She loved her family. She loved ice cream and dancing and being with her friends. She loved the rides and being outside in the sunshine. What could be more fun?”
Jodie Booth, a volunteer who is the fundraiser committee’s treasurer, said, “We get a lot of support from the community. For a small town, the community really gives.”
In the first three years, the fundraiser brought in more than $50,000 to benefit pediatric cancer research and programs.
Booth estimated that the money raised Sunday will far exceed the total from the year before.
Sara Clark, another member of the “Dancing For Hailey” committee, called it a wonderful fundraiser.
“We are really busy,” Clark said of the turnout. “People are still coming out every year. It is a fun event for a very good cause.”
Upper Township friends Mackenzie Jenkins, 7, Darrah Ostrander, 7, and her sister Marley, 10, Isla Booth, 7, and Ocean City resident Lyla Clark, 7, laughed and spent time at vendor tables getting their faces painted and testing out their artistry painting.
The friends joined in a celebration of Hailey’s life.
“This is an awesome event,” said Stephanie Ostrander, Darrah and Marley’s mother. “They are raising money for a good cause. We are happy we could come, and we plan to again next year.”