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Posted on Nov 01, 2015 in Lighthouse Retreat , November-December 2015

The Lancasters from Pinson, Al., — Heather, Eddie, Luci, Andi, Landon and Gray. Photos courtesy Lighthouse Retreat

In September, Gray Lancaster, 6, and his family visited Seaside while participting in a program called Lighthouse Retreat. Lighthouse Retreat has been providing purposeful vacationing for families living with childhood cancer. Gray and his parents were able to experience a practically expense-free week in Seaside. Other families were given similar opportunities in the area, some along 30A. The purpose is to help families heal and feel like a family again. This summer alone, more than 180 families — more than 2,100 people — participated in the program.

Each retreat consists of 12 to 14 families joined by 50 volunteers. Family partners are dedicated volunteers to each family. Their service includes taking care of all the children so parents can gather for support, cleaning, laundry, giving gifts and inspirational notes, and donating the expenses of the family they sponsor as well as their own.

Gray’s family partners were Shala, John and 5-year-old son, Nate. “It was absolutely fabulous,” says Heather Lancaster, Gray’s mom. She explained that after breakfast and worship, parents went to a gathering called Common Ground. She was unsure how she would feel about leaving Gray, his two sisters and brother with her family partners, but she “felt comfortable as a helicopter parent dropping them off, knowing they were in the best care.”

During his stay, Gray’s favorite activity was playing with Nate and the sand. For the Lancasters, the relationship forged with parents and her partners will continue after the retreat. In fact, John organized for Gray to receive a Zac Brown Band photo, signed by the entire band. Even better though is that Gray’s brain tumor has shrunk three millimeters since his last checkup.

The Paterson Family — Rochelle, Derek and Myla, and twins Halle and Rea — from Hudson, Fla.

Like the Lancasters, another family, the Patersons, experienced an incredible restoration. Rochelle Paterson, daughter Rea’s mom, has not been able to stop talking about it. Rea, 3, is in remission as of September last year. She has had stem cell and bone marrow transplants as part of her recovery and is now doing wonderfully. Throughout the last year, she and Rochelle spent an enormous amount of time in the hospital, leaving Rea’s twin sister, Halle, and her little sister, Myla, without them quite often. Halle stopped eating because she missed her mother and twin tremendously, so Rea would often Facetime Halle from the hospital to encourage her to eat and stay strong. After such a grueling experience, Rochelle and the family were thrilled to attend the September retreat.

When the Patersons met their family partners Amy, John and their daughter, Britain, they felt immediate peace leaving their children with them. The children who had separation anxiety, given the long hospital stays, hit it off right away with their partners. When asked, Rea’s favorite experience was the un-birthday party, where the children enjoyed cake and dancing while parents enjoyed a date night. Rochelle says the retreat is like no other: “Everyone chose to be there — family and volunteers. Everyone is there because of their hearts,” she says. “Lighthouse Retreat will change your life. It was just an incredible experience just to be around so many good people who are so genuine. They love you. You love them.”

For more information, visit lighthousefamilyretreat.org.