Bridge to Hope, helping people through difficult times

7 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — When a family is going through the rollercoaster of emotions following a cancer diagnosis, something as simple as a gasoline gift card can make a world of difference.

Helping people in southern Aroostook County with financial support is the mission of the non-profit group called “Bridge to Hope.” The group has helped hundreds of families over the past 12 years, with such kind gestures as gasoline gift cards and hotel accomodations to aid with travel expenses to those undergoing cancer treatments or having appointments in central and southern Maine.

“You may be the richest or poorest person in the world, but when you hear the dreadful words ‘you have cancer,’ we all become one,” explained Dee Butler Henderson, one of the group’s organizers. “At that point, anyone can use a nice note and to be told that they are being thought of. The worst thing you can do, is turn away from them. Now more than ever, they need to know they have the support of family, friends and their communities.”

A good group of walkers brave the weather on Oct. 17, 2015, to participate in the 10th annual Bridge to Hope Cancer Walk.
(Joseph Cyr)

In October of 2006, Cathy Kennedy organized a Breast Cancer Awareness Walk to be held in Houlton after learning two of her aunts had been diagnosed with breast cancer. That year there were approximately 50 participants who raised about $800 which was donated to the American Cancer Society.

The first walk was held in Houlton’s Riverfront Park at the Gateway Crossing Bridge, which led to the group’s name, “Bridge to Hope.”  Its mission is “to bridge the hope to all of those people that are fighting this dreadful disease.”

In 2007, Kennedy was joined by Kim Folsom, Butler Henderson and Marie Carmichael and the walk grew both in scope and participation. At that time a decision was made to keep the funds local, instead of sending them to the national cancer program.

In 2011, Pam and Amy Hocking joined the cause and helped continue its growth to the point where the walk traditionally draws about 200 walkers and raises an average of $10,000 each year. The largest walk to date took place in 2012 when just over 300 individuals participated, raising about $15,000 for the cause.

This year’s Bridge to Hope walk starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Gentle Memorial Building in Houlton.

By keeping funds local, the group has been able to help individuals undergoing cancer treatments with travel expenses and hotel accommodations, meal gift cards, gift baskets and even donations of turkeys during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A table filled with pink decorated items are among the many gifts presented as prizes at the Bridge to Hope Cancer Walk on Oct. 15, 2016, in Houlton.
(Joseph Cyr)

Although Kennedy no longer participates with Bridge to Hope, the remaining women have proudly carried on her initial work.

Finding out who is going through cancer treatments has never been difficult for the women thanks to the power of social media and word of mouth.

“Sometimes we will see something online and reach out to people,” Amy Hocking said. “Usually it is something as simple as somebody knows somebody who is going through a tough time.”

Pam Hocking, a registered nurse at Houlton Regional Hospital in the mammography department, said she struggles at times because she often knows of a person’s diagnosis, but is unable to say anything.

All five women have been impacted by cancer either directly themselves or with a loved one. And because of this, they know better than most how the simplest gesture can mean so much.

Donations of support are not a one-time thing either. The group keeps track of everyone they have aided and makes a point to randomly check in with those people with additional gift cards or other items. They also will make financial donations to benefit suppers.

“The best thing we can do are the little things,” Butler Henderson said. “We did turkeys at Thanksgiving one year and Christmas arrangements. People are always so appreciative. There is so much need in our area, how can we not give back?”

“For me, it’s a pay-it-forward thing,” Pam Hocking said. “I am very thankful. I had breast cancer in 2009. It was very uneventful. I missed a week of work. I was so incredibly lucky.”

A group of about 200 walkers gather on Oct. 15, 2016, for the Bridge to Hope’s annual cancer walk in Houlton. The walkers formed the shape of a ribbon, the symbol for cancer awareness, and released pink balloons before going on their walk.
(Joseph Cyr)

If funds are available, the group offers a small scholarship to any student who lives in southern Aroostook County who has been affected by cancer in one way or another. They also support Sarah’s House in Brewer, which provides temporary lodging and support to those receiving treatment at the Eastern Maine Medical Center Cancer Care facility.

“We strive to hand deliver all of our requests so that they know they are not battling this alone and we can throw in a caring hug,” Carmichael said.

Along with the fundraising from the annual Bridge to Hope Walk, Pam and Amy Hocking have both brought forth their talents to increase the fundraising efforts. For the past few years, Pam Hocking has made at least one large quilt each fall to raffle off at the group’s walk. The quilt raffles themselves have brought in over $9,500.

Pam Hocking also applied her crafting skills to making hand bags, dubbed “Bosom Buddy Bags” and to date she has made and sold more than 300 bags, along with many small handmade items such as wallets, key fobs and wristlets. Amy Hocking brought her jewelry making abilities to the mix and started selling jewelry online and at local craft fairs. All of the sale proceeds from the Bosom Buddy Bags and Jewelry come back to Bridge to Hope.

“Nothing breaks our hearts more than to read an obituary of someone that we have supported and nothing warms our heart more than when we read that they are asking for donations be made in their memory to Bridge to Hope,” Folsom said. “There are no words at that point to express our gratitude.”

For more information on the walk, or how to purchase quilt raffle tickets, visit the group’s Facebook page.