Sandcastle Kids: Healing Hearts

Oct 16, 2023Beach Life Magazine, Emerald Coast

Sandcastle Kids, a South Walton 501c3 nonprofit, carries out their healing mission by providing all-expenses-paid vacations to families experiencing a diagnosis of childhood cancer. As you can imagine, these families undergo tremendous mental, emotional, and financial stress daily. Sandcastle Kids looks to ease that burden.

For the Gvozdas family from Columbia, South Carolina, 2019 brought a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for their second youngest child, Eve.

During the next two and a half years of active treatments, Eve’s mom and dad, Meredith and Scott, called Eve their warrior. At just four years old, she endured hundreds of doses of chemotherapy and steroids, as well as scans, biopsies, and hospital stays over her 832 days of cancer treatment.

Enter Sandcastle Kids.

Working directly with their Pediatric Oncology Social Worker, they were offered a beach trip to South Walton. For this sweet family, even the anticipation and planning for the trip lifted their spirits.

Eve’s mom, Meredith, emphasized the impact Eve’s cancer had made on their entire family. Parents of four, they’d also weathered Eve’s illness during a global pandemic. This required many sacrifices and a lot of missing out – especially for her two oldest kids, Margaret and Mary Scott. The Gvozdases found they had to say no a lot during that time.

The Yes Week

From providing gorgeous beach house accommodations to exciting day excursions like dolphin tours, Sandcastle Kids families are free to just soak it all in and make magical memories. Sandcastle Kids also provides gift cards for expenses, restaurant vouchers, and photography sessions are donated by local photographers.

Eve’s mom Meredith said they referred to their trip as “The Yes Week.” Being a family of six, vacations can be costly, but every treat and whim was possible thanks to this program.

Power of Community

Sandcastle Kids is completely volunteer-based. Because of generous homeowners, donors, and businesses, Sandcastle Kids families leave their worries at home for a week. “My husband and I were floored by the level of generosity we encountered in South Walton”, Gvozdas recalled.

Once all the families scheduled for 2022 complete their trips, Sandcastle Kids will have helped 110 families since its inception in 2015.

Believe in Eve

While the Gvozdases’ Fall 2021 trip was planned months in advance, incredibly Eve was able to take her last chemo pills while on her beach trip. It was a night this family will never forget.

A year later, Eve is doing great. She is five now and loving life as a Kindergartener. The Sandcastle Kids trip demarcated a whole new beginning for their entire family: a fresh start to believe in.

After the Storm

According to Meredith, the end of cancer treatment was almost as emotional as the beginning.

The morning after Eve’s last treatment, Meredith went for a walk on the beach. The sky was gray and ominous, but she was determined to walk out all her complicated thoughts and feelings. Inexplicably her phone battery died, so when a full rainbow appeared she was disheartened to realize she could not capture it.

Noticing her frustration, a stranger offered his phone and said, “I’ve taken some already, please text them to yourself or take some of your own.” Only later did the Gvozdases notice Meredith herself was in his photos. There she was: the mom of a warrior, reflecting upon their storm, walking right beneath the promise of a Gulf Coast rainbow

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