March 23, 2004 marked both an end and a beginning in the life of Sara Elizabeth Kennedy. It was the day that the 18-year-old Berea Community High School senior lost her battle with a rare from of childhood cancer. It was also just the beginning of the SaraCare Celebration, a 15-year effort in which Sara's life and memory is celebrated with a community benefit to help those in need.
On Friday, April 26, at Union Church in Berea, that tradition will continue with the SaraCare Celebration beginning at 5:30 and continuing until 10 p.m.
The event will kick off at 5:30 with a $5 spaghetti dinner sponsored by Rick and Gina Wicker, and dinner will be served until 7 p.m. A free concert will begin upstairs in the sanctuary of Union Church at 6:30 p.m., featuring remarkable musical talents from both Berea and Nashville, including award-winning singer/composer Doug Johnson, Elvie Shane, Mitch Barrett, Al, Alice and Ruth White, the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble, and many others.
Also joining the festivities for the evening will be special guest film and TV star Muse Watson.
Raffles will be ongoing throughout the evening, as guests have the chance to buy tickets for a fun assortment of prizes, including opportunities for golf, dining, beautiful arts and crafts, a specially crafted Warren May dulcimer, a Mitchell Tolle Wildcats print autographed by UK Basketball Coach John Calipari, and a Florida vacation. Raffle tickets are priced at $1 and $5, depending on the value of the item.
All of the prizes are donated, in addition to the many hours that are donated by loyal friends and community members to make the event possible, said Sara's mother, Norma Kennedy.
"There are so many friends who work themselves silly every year. But it's all a labor of love," said Norma, who all these years later still marvels at the generosity of the community. "There are so many people who help that we couldn't possible list all of them."
The tradition began just weeks after Sara passed away. Friends had planned a benefit for Sara's family for April 2004, but rather than cancel the benefit, Sara's parents, Eddie and Norma Kennedy, allowed the event to go on, and many have been helped in the years since.
Founded in 2005, the SaraCare Fund has raised over $200,000 to assist children and families at U.K. Children's Hospital, aiding the Matt Ross Fund to provide scholarships for children to play baseball and softball at Berea City Park, and providing scholarships to students at both Berea Community High School and Madison Southern High School. To date, over $50,000 in scholarships have been awarded in Sara's memory. This year, Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Clinic will again benefit from SaraCare.
Just as the mission of SaraCare is to help families in need, part of the purpose of the annual event is to "keep alive the laugh, the smile, the legacy and the memory of Sara Elizabeth Kennedy." Attendees get to share that memory when, just before intermission, a six-minute film will be shown in which Sara tells in her own words how she learned about having cancer and how she decided to handle it.
The film, which combines the efforts and talents of friends Janton Barrineau and Jacob Kirby, shows how Sara confronted her illness with courage, a sense of humor, and a maturity beyond her years, said Eddie Kennedy.
"She looks at the camera at one point and says 'There has to be a reason for this, some purpose. We don't know what it is, but we'll know one day.' So, the purpose of SaraCare, what Sara inspired, is to help others."