Shortly before Ret Thomas lost his battle with Ewing's sarcoma in April 2000 at age 15, he made his parents promise him something.
" 'Give back,' he used those words," said his mother, Suzanne Thomas. "Very close to the time he died, he said that people have been so supportive of him and our family that we had to make something of this."
Fourteen years later, they have.
Soon after the Hilton Head Preparatory School student's death, his family began the RET Foundation, aimed at assisting children afflicted with pediatric cancers. The foundation hosts two events every year -- a basketball tournament, as well as a 5K run and walk -- to raise money for its cause.
Since the foundation began, it has raised roughly $500,000.
Thomas said she never expected the events to become as large and successful as they have. But she is certain they could not have achieved that success without volunteers.
"Each of these events require numerous volunteers, and people are always so willing to step up and do anything in honor and memory of Ret," she said.
One of those events, the Run for RET, takes place every Labor Day weekend. This year's race will begin at 8 a.m. Aug. 30, with the course winding through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
Since its inaugural event eight years ago, the race has continued to grow every year in both the number of participants and volunteers, Thomas said.
The foundation usually needs about 30 people to put on the event, helping with tasks that include monitoring the course, checking people in and working the water stations.
The basketball tournament -- held over several days in December at Hilton Head Prep's field house -- usually requires a few more helping hands. About 80 volunteers help to put on the event, design and distribute programs, set up the hospitality rooms and work the snack bars.
Hilton Head Prep athletic director Rich Basirico said he is overwhelmed at how the event unites the community.
"Not only do we have faculty and people in the community helping out with the event, but it's amazing to see how our student body gets involved, as well," said Basirico, who helped start the basketball tournament. "People hear about what the events and foundation stands for -- and what Ret stands for -- and they just want to get involved."
While many families have been involved with the events for the past 14 years, Thomas said, the foundation continues to get new volunteers every year who are inspired by its mission.
The foundation never has to ask for volunteers. It always has more than enough wanting to get involved, Thomas said, and it always can find something for them to do.
But the volunteers do much more than help run the events, she added.
"I couldn't do this, emotionally, without the volunteers," she said. "It is difficult when you are so invested in an event that is this close to home, even after 14 years. So the volunteers are all of that, not only physical support but emotional support."
Thomas expects this year's events to be no different than those over the years, full of fun and energy. They honor Ret in every way -- his courage, enthusiasm, love of sports and giving attitude, she said.
"We never thought it would turn in to this," his mother said. "It's his spirit running this -- it really is."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.