EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- There was quite a bit of traffic on the south side of Eau Claire, Wisconsin Thursday night, as sort of a pop-up parade gathered to honor kids diagnosed with cancer and their families.
“We’re calling a celebration of life and we want to have the grandest party we have for all of our families because they’re so cool,” said Kathy Finney, the director for Joshua’s Camp in Eau Claire.
The first-ever Celebration of Courage Parade took place as a part of Joshua’s Camp, which gives kids diagnosed with cancer and their families a chance to escape for a moment and connect with others. But the night’s parade was a complete surprise for the 29 families gathering at the Metropolis Resort, as well as the biggest surprise, having the kids be the final float.
“This is one of those things we wanted to do, something special for the group of kids that are here,” said Bill Bertrand, the General Manager of Morrie’s Mazda. “It's a unique group of kids; this is kind of a reunion for them and this is a very special group to us, so the opportunity and very short notice to bring a lot of businesses and people together.”
Organizers, like Benny Anderson, the general manager at Metropolis Resort, said it was only six days of planning; a tight timeline that drew in 110 floats to parade down the Metropolis parking lot.
Cancer survivors, Cameron Harris and Matthew Winter said they were excited after finding out about the parade, and getting to be a part of it.
“I’ve been in a few, but this is the first one we have for that kind of stuff,” Winter said.
As part of the celebration, this pop-up parade was just one major way the Chippewa Valley could honor these kids and their families.
“When you’re coming out to support these kids, you’re finding 60 little heroes,” said Anderson. “They’re great kids. They’re battling cancer and they have amazing attitudes. Some people get upset their coffee is hot and these kids are going through chemo and all of this rough stuff, and their attitude is perseverance all the way through. But it’s also positive and optimistic and everything a kid should get to do, and letting them be kids.”
The reunion also helps families from near and far, build bonds, like Harris and Winter’s mothers, who were neighbors as kids and reconnected when their kids were in the hospital for treatment.
“It’s nice meeting other families that have gone through the same thing we have gone through,” Jodi Harris said. Rena Wieloch, Winter’s mom, added, “And to be able to meet these families and then spend time with them year after year, knowing that everybody’s gone through the same troubles and turmoils, we've gotten to be really good friends with them.”
The last surprise for these kids and their families included a fireworks show.