`A Project About Giving Hope'

$500 Cherry-tree Sponsorships Support The Fight Against Cancer

April 30, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

Every spring, Howard County is getting a little more pink.

To date, 639 Kwanzan cherry trees have been planted by Howard County Tourism Inc.'s Blossoms of Hope project, adding thousands of pastel petals to the landscape when the trees bloom in April.

The ultimate goal is 1,000 trees "to beautify and to beckon people to Howard County," said Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of the tourism group.

At the same time, she said, "It is a project about giving hope."

A $500 sponsorship of a tree includes 30 percent as a donation to the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource and Image Center at Howard County General Hospital. At a ceremony Friday at Centennial Park, Bonacci presented the center with a check for $15,540, raised over the past year.

Also, the county Health Department announced it will use the blossoms as a symbol for its free breast cancer screening program next month.

The department will offer free, half-day, walk-in clinics at Howard County libraries on six days next month. And Howard County General Hospital will offer $50 mammograms next month for women to follow up their clinical exam.

Visually, the blossoming trees will serve "as a little nudge to women," said County Executive James N. Robey. "When the trees are blossoming, it is time to take action ... and get an exam."

The Blossoms of Hope program has grown quickly since 20 inaugural trees were planted at Centennial Park along Route 108 in Ellicott City in November 2004.

Individuals and businesses have sponsored trees at county parks, libraries, community centers and historic sites. Corporate sponsors have put the trees on private property throughout the county. And the state highway department used Kwanzan cherry trees at the request of the tourism council for its plantings along Interstate 70, U.S. 40 and Route 100.

The Columbia Association recently agreed to plant 65 of the trees on its properties, including nine that have been drawing attention at Symphony Woods in Columbia.

And while the trees are rooted in Howard County, about 45 supporters in bright pink T-shirts traveled to Washington this month to lead three 15-foot-tall, inflated cherry blossoms through the rain in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade.

Barbara Michels of Columbia told those gathered Friday that the efforts are appreciated.

A 10-year breast cancer survivor, she said she was "surrounded by a cocoon of hope and caring" at the Claudia Mayer center when her cancer returned three years ago.

When clumps of hair fell out in the shower, she said, she called the center and was told to come over.

"I left there with a wig, hats and chemo caps," she said. "My new look gave me an attitude, and that's what a cancer survivor needs."

Other families were at the event to remember people who did not survive.

Marilyn Yetso's five children and her husband sponsored a tree in Centennial park in her memory. The 57-year-old Columbia resident died of colon cancer six years ago.

"We've been meaning to do something here to commemorate her life and to support the county," said Marilyn's son, Brock Yetso.

He said he appreciated the Mayer center's help when his family was dealing with cancer. And, he noted, Centennial Park "is a beautiful place."

Arleen McGreevy said a tree - sponsored by her family - was a fitting memorial to her husband, Fred J. McGreevy because "we used to come to the park all the time. ... I know my husband would enjoy it."

She said the family was interested as soon as they heard about the project after McGreevy died of complications from diabetes a year ago.

"He loved natural beauty," she said.

Information about the Blossoms of Hope project is available at www.visithowardcounty.com, or 410-313-1900. The county's free breast cancer screenings will be held at the east Columbia library May 8 (9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and May 15 (1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.), at the Elkridge library May 9 and 17 (9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days), and at the central library May 12 and 18 (1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. both days). Information on Howard General Hospital's $50 mam- mograms: 410-740-7900.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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