OXON HILL — The Casey Cares Foundation hosted a cruise for critically ill children and their families aboard the Urban Pirates Cruise Ship at the National Harbor on June 27.
The foundation, founded by Casey Baynes in 2000, serves seven states throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Washington, D.C. regions. About 50 kids and their families boarded the ship for an adventure on the Potomac River where they learned how to be pirates, played games and found treasure.
“A lot of these kids are in an immense state of suffering,” Baynes said. “Our goal is to restore their childhood. We want them to forget that they may have treatment tomorrow and just be kids today.”
Joshua Ross stuck close to his cousin Marcus who accompanied him on the trip. The ten-year-old from Fort Washington has spent his entire life living with sickle cell anemia, a disease that causes the breakdown of red blood cells. He is currently being treated at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
While at Georgetown, the family’s social worker put them in touch with the Casey Cares Foundation. Since then they’ve partic ipated in many other activities with the foundation, have received free movie passes to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and they get vouchers for groceries.
“A lot of things they have to take place in Baltimore so we haven’t been able to get out to all of them,” said Joshua’s father James Ross. “But when they’re close enough to home we look forward to attending.”
Joshua has not been hospitalized for a few years now and is very active with basketball, soccer and martial arts. However, sometimes he will still have a pain crisis such as joint pain and in the past has even dealt with chest pain. In these tough times, the family would have to deal with medication and hospital visits that would be stressful for them all.
“We appreciate the Casey Foundation for doing this,” Ross said. “It really takes the load off. It takes our minds off of reality for a while.”
Meanwhile, four-year-old Jacob Newkirk ran back and forth across the ship in fascination with his little sisters Jayce, 3, and Janae, 1.
Jacob, also from Prince George’s County, experiences complications similar to Joshua having been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia and his sister Jayce was also recently diagnosed with the disease.
The family got in touch with the Casey Cares Foundation two years ago through their case manager at Kaiser Permanente and took advantage of it as it was one of the only programs of its kind that supported sickle cell anemia victims. Since then they’ve been involved in as many activities as possible.
“With three little ones and being a working wife, that’s a lot,” said their mother, Melanie Newkirk. “To be able to see them happy and experience what they would not have done otherwise for just one hour is something they will remember.”
Because of their disease, Jacob and Jayce have also had to go through many hospital stays and medical treatments. It takes an enormous toll on the family to have not one but two children dealing with the same illness. Still, the family is grateful that the kids can go on a trip like this and meet other children in similar predicaments who they may make friends with and see on their next hospital stay.
“One day we will be one of those people who will sponsor and pay for activities like this,” Newkirk said. “I’m very prayerful that we can be ones of those people who can help other children experience a day like this.”
Baynes founded the foundation when working as a volunteer for a wish foundation when she realized that there were so many resources for people living with cancer, but not many for victims of other diseases such as sickle cell or lung disease. At the beginning of the program, they started out with only three families, and now they have tens of thousands.
The Foundation provides many family events similar to the Urban Pirates Cruise. They give birthday parties and offer families vacations. If a child is unable to leave their home or hospital due to their illness, the foundation brings the fun to them such as a movie and pizza.
No matter what, the Casey Cares Foundation has never denied a request from a family due to funding. Their goal is to take the stress off of families so that money will not be yet another obstacle to overcome. Instead, the idea is for them to have fun, get out and be kids and meet other kids while the foundation provides support for those kids, their siblings and their parents.
“We want today to be the most amazing memory for them,” she said. “Something for them to look back on and see the smiles. Even though they’ve been battling for their lives, we want them just to take a day to enjoy themselves.”