Cancer Connection Campout raises over $100K

  • Campers enjoy a warm fire and hot dogs at the 13th annual Cancer Connection Campout on the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn on Wednesday night, Feb. 27, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bryan Dolan, right, and Megan Velez, of the Greenfield business Ice Cream Alley, ladle cups of hot cocoa for Kiely and James Kinchla, 9 and 6 respectively, of Hadley and Cancer Connection President Becky Jones during the 13th annual Cancer Connection Campout on the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn on Wednesday night, Feb. 27, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • John Kinchla, left, of Hadley, chats with Caitlin Carvalho, center, of Haydenville and Cynthia Tarail of the Cancer Connection as they enjoy cups of hot cocoa from Ice Cream Alley, a Greenfield business that set up at the 13th annual Cancer Connection Campout on the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn on Wednesday night, Feb. 27, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At least nineteen tents occupied the lawn of the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn on Wednesday night, Feb. 27, 2019, for the 13th annual Cancer Connection Campout. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 2/28/2019 5:02:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Monte Belmonte hosted the 13th annual Cancer Connection Campout, helping to raise over $100,000 for the nonprofit organization.

Belmonte, radio personality for WRSI, along with more than 25 other campers, hunkered down in the cold last night outside of the old courthouse, dedicated to raising as much money as possible for the cause.

Among these campers was Becky Jones, president of the board at Cancer Connection and a breast cancer survivor. “I have been involved with Cancer Connection since its beginnings,” said Jones. “I’ve been a participant, and I’ve been a facilitator and a volunteer there, so I love Cancer Connection.”

Jones said one of the greatest outcomes from the campout every year is an increase in awareness for the organization. “People get to see that we are here, and everything (at Cancer Connection) is free, so that whole combination is great.”

Jones previously camped out for the cause over the summer but wanted to challenge herself to try it in the winter. She bundled up, added foam pads to the bottom of her tent and borrowed a sub-zero sleeping bag to stay warm.

“I told everybody who donated to me that I bring all their spirits into this tent, so it was a very crowded tent,” said Jones. “I was actually quite cozy.” She ended up raising over $3,500.

As some campers gathered around a fire, others decorated the stairs of the courthouse with luminarias in honor of people they were remembering.

Jennifer Ritz-Sullivan, of Goshen, participated in her fifth campout last night. Ritz-Sullivan lost her stepmother to cancer.

“For me, it is a way to deal with my grief, but also to carry on her legacy of compassion and care,” she said. This year, she was honoring the memory of her friend who died at 45 after battling leukemia.

Cancer Connection offers a variety of resources to patients fighting cancer, and to their loved ones, including support groups, integrative therapies such as massage and acupuncture, and organized physical activities.

Belmonte started the fundraiser event 13 years ago. Over the years, he has helped Cancer Connection raise more than half a million dollars. Campers aim to raise $1,000 per tent.

“Each year I come, I feel like there are more folks that I am camping out for,” said Ritz-Sullivan, her voice cracking. “They are not all fortunate enough to have something like Cancer Connection in their communities, so I do this to make sure that the Cancer Connection stays.”

At the last minute, Ritz-Sullivan received a donation from her late friend’s sister that brought her up to $1,500.

Throughout the event, Belmonte was broadcasting and encouraging donations, and he was overwhelmed with emotion when he learned the fundraiser had broken $100,000 in donations. Cindy Tarail of Cancer Connection was crying when she relayed the information to Belmonte, “and I am a crier, so I immediately also burst into tears,” Belmonte said.

“As much as I hate the cold and snow, it was lovely to watch it fall over downtown Northampton,” he said. “Especially since we lit up the courthouse pink.” He described pink-lit snowflakes coming down into the campsites.

Having the campout in the winter attracts more attention, Belmonte added: “The weirder and more dramatic the circumstances, the more people want to support it and the more people want to participate.”

Belmonte noted that “the business community stepped up in major ways.” Greenfield Savings Bank had a $10,000 challenge grant, which encouraged listeners to match their donation. River Valley Co-op, Amherst Nurseries, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and many others also contributed.

The radio host was inspired by stories shared by survivors and their loved ones throughout the fundraiser. “What the Cancer Connection reminds them to do is to live, now,” said Belmonte. “We never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so we are going to live now.”




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