The American Cancer Society's Relay For Life, the largest fundraising event of its kind, has the enormous support of one little Bluffton girl.
Her name is Ella Grace Cook, and at age 5, she's already emotionally invested in the Bluffton Relay that will be held overnight beginning at dusk Friday at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Gateway Campus.
Ella Grace's ties are to Elizabeth Overby, head of the children's ministry at Church of The Cross in Bluffton, where she and parents Emily and Ray Cook worship. Overby has known Ella Grace since Ella Grace was born. It was a friendship that grew out of the church.
Two years ago, Overby was diagnosed with two rare forms of cervical cancer. The disease has forced her back into treatment, after she had gone into remission for months. Throughout the exhausting ordeal, Ella Grace has been there to support her friend.
"She's what I call the Band-Aid ministry," said Overby, who has been on the church's staff since 2006. "When I was diagnosed, little Ella Grace appeared at my door with Band-Aids she had picked out. She covers my boo-boos both spiritually and physically."
During one visit, Ella Grace surprised her friend with Band-Aids of the cheerful Hello Kitty character. She told Overby it was from her own personal stash.
The young caregiver also has made a positive impression on others in the community.
"She's just so precious," said Mary Gwen Boyett, community representative for the American Cancer Society's newly opened Bluffton office. "When she and her mother came by the office, I showed her our 'look-good, feel-better room.' We talked about cancer with her and the good things she can do. She had the best manners of any girl I've seen."
This will be the Cook family's first year participating in the relay event as part of "Elizabeth's Team." They don't plan on staying all night, but others from their church and the Cross Schools will be there in full force, including Overby. Some plan to sleep in tents and take turns walking or running the course until morning. Several other area teams are registered for the event.
One of the signatures of Relay For Life is the illuminated bags called luminaries that line the race course. Each bag bears the name of someone who has had cancer, some celebrating survivors and others remembering those who died.
"This is a disease that has affected so many people in the world today, I certainly think we have to bring as much attention to it as possible," Overby said. "For me, being a Christian, with so much uncertainty in the world, your peace and joy can be kept intact with your faith in Christ, especially when you're dealing with cancer."
This is Bluffton's fifth Relay For Life, joining the hundreds of communities that take part in the fundraiser that began in Tacoma, Wash., in 1985. The Hilton Head Island relay was May 6 and 7. The Jasper County relay will be at Ridgeland High School from 7 p.m. May 20 to 7 p.m. May 21.