Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
Bernard Mauricia, Seany Foundation’s vice president of development, has dedicated more than a decade as a volunteer for Seany’s Camp Reach for the Sky program, which supports children with cancer and their families.
“We run free camps, quality of life, and patient service programs that support kids that are battling cancer and their siblings,” Mauricia said. “It’s a place where a kid can just be a kid.”
On Feb. 5, Cloak & Petal in Downtown hosted 100 children with cancer from the Seany Foundation, providing a place for a little respite from dealing with cancer, a chance to meet and mingle with other families facing cancer, and a buffet of Cloak & Petal’s best.
Children got the chance to meet and take photos with Darrion Caldwell, Bellator MMA Bantamweight World Champion and Jeremy Stephens, UFC’s Featherweight division mixed martial artist who brought a champion belt for everyone to look at and try to wear.
“They’ve [Cloak & Petal] been generous enough to invite us and the families out to have a good time and take in the environment,” Mauricia said. “We’ll have a lot of our volunteer counselors and their families, parents of some of the kids from camp that are in treatment right now and even those families that have lost a child, or a child that has lost a parent as well. It will be a great way for these families and individuals to get together, break bread and thank the community that get behind the programs that we do.”
Mauricia said Cloak & Petal is a great partner and jumped in last year to help give children with cancer and their siblings the opportunity to participate in Seany’s camps. He said the relationship began when Cesar Vallin, Cloak & Petal managing partner, came out to the camps and saw for himself what the Seany Foundation provides for these families. During the holidays, Cloak & Petal started a campaign where any of its clients could sponsor a kid to camp. A decision from a client to sponsor a kid resulted in an origami crane attached to a picture of a kid attending the camp being hung on the blossoms of the beautiful cherry tree that centerpieces the restaurant — symbolizing hope and healing during difficult times.
“It’s really cool to see that visual and for people to see how a restaurant like this that is tied into the fine work of San Diego as a whole to put such effort as an advocate for these kids and these families,” Mauricia said.
“San Diego is a very tight knit community and very philanthropic, so when you see the community getting together and just saying this means something, that’s special. Especially when it comes to cancer,” he continued. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it gets after the core fiber of a family and just destructs it. So to be able to have programs and supporters like this that realize how important this is, and to connect those family members is incredible.”
Tiana Lacerva, Seany Foundation’s director of events, said the mission is to provide recreational camping programs that in the long run provide an endless amount of support, light, love and compassion to kids, young adults and families who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
“Rather than prevention and research, we really gear towards the community of people that already in the muck dealing with cancer,” Lacerva said. “Bringing to light that cancer is so much more than a physical disease. It definitely takes a toll on the heart, the soul and the entire family unit, not just the individual.”
Vallin said he knew Mauricia for a few years through a mutual friend when he owned the Prospect Bar and Grill. At that time Vallin was very involved with the Toussaint Academy in Downtown and said he became very close and attached to the organization. But in 2017, after more than 20 years in the industry, Vallin lost it all, so 2017 and 2018 were rebuilding years for him. But Vallin said he knew as soon as he was established, he would look for somewhere to work with.
“I reached out to Bernie and told him I wanted to work with him and create events regularly using a lot of my resources, which are getting fighters, sports and athletes over to the camps to help out and support,” Vallin said. “That’s how our relationship started. For me, I’ve been blessed with great health and family that I was always brought up to believe that you have a social responsibility. To make a stand for the people that don’t have the ability to stand for themselves. I have to make sure that I am doing my part in giving back.”
Mauricia said this is what these camps and programs allow — kids just to be kids.
“It is a ton of relief sometimes not to think about cancer for a moment,” Mauricia said. “It is devastating. There is no guide for it. You are just thrown into a world of the unknown because you have no answers and you just go through this process of trying to figure it out. You need that support system and the families here tonight are their own support system. The camps allow them to go and find their own tribe because they are surrounded by other people that get it. It’s all kids that are in treatment or remission, or their siblings. That’s a big deal, because then you understand that there is a large support system out there.”
Heather Wood, her husband and children understand the need for a great support system first hand. They learned about the camps in 2008 when their son Joseph was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, and his older brother Bryen was struggling to understand and deal with the fact that his brother was sick and in the hospital. Wood sent Brian to the sibling camp because they thought it might help him to accept what was going on and to “walk and talk through it.” Fortunately, Joseph went into remission at the end of the year.
In 2014, Bryen was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the muscle and the connected tissue. She said the diagnosis took longer than it should, but by the time it came, they were already preparing and planning all the things that needed to be done while taking care of a large family at the same time.
“We started down the path of chemotherapy pretty fast,” Wood said. “I found out I was pregnant with my fifth child three days before he discovered his lump. The journey of my fifth pregnancy was the same as the journey of surgery, and an intense chemotherapy. Brian spent almost half the year in the hospital and us going through cycles of dad going in the evening, us during the day, making it really a hospital full of kids.”
Wood said it was really tough on everyone emotionally.
“I think the part that helped us get through was that we had already survived,” she continued. “It wasn’t the same diagnoses, but we knew he was in good hands. We knew the doctors, we knew the nurses and that is a comfort and helped us know that we were strong enough to do it.”
Wood said that Seany was very accommodating. Since Joseph technically went to patient camp, they allowed him to switch to the sibling camp to help him deal with his older brother that now had cancer. Wood said it was difficult for him because Bryen’s doctors and nurses where also his, and the positions of the two brothers had switched.
“But after going through sibling camp one year, he [Joseph] came back with the acceptance that ‘I can share this journey with you.’” Wood said. “It’s been wonderful to see how their relationship has developed, both of them have gone through something so difficult, being able to join together.
“Seany has been awesome,” she continued. “We were able to help with their promotional video when Brian was going through cancer. It was a really nice way to try to bring some good out of the pain. And even better now when we can look back and say, ‘That was then, and this is now.’ Now we are in a phase that is so normal, we don’t quite know what to do with it. But it is amazing and incredible to look back on such a difficult chapter and still have the support and the friends from all the people of Seany.”
Mauricia said events like this one at the Cloak & Petal were great for everyone that is within the Seany community and gives them a chance to relax, meet with old friends and meet new ones.
Cloak & Petal opened Dec. 22, 2017. Vallin said from there it skyrocketed. He said the most difficult thing was coming up with a name. His partners wanted to name it Blossom, but he just couldn’t see people saying, “Let’s go down to Blossom.” Vallin thought it was too soft and he was looking for something a little bolder. He hired a company to help select names and none of the names stood out except for one. It had the word ‘cloak’ in it.
“I thought about Cloak and Dagger, Cloak and Blossom, then went searching for alternative words for Blossom and found Petal. I knew right away that was it,” Vallin said. “There are two rooms. If you notice there is a lot of black. The trees are black and that represents really dark times that you’ve had to overcome, and the blossoms represent the new beginnings. The other side of the coin. This place represents our past, our future, our beginnings, the things that we want to move forward and pull us through those dark times and give us the opportunity to be supportive and give back.”
— Albert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.