Union Church in Berea will again host the SaraCare Celebration this Friday, commemorating the life of Sara Elizabeth Kennedy, an 18-year-old Berea Community High School senior who lost her battle with a rare form of childhood cancer in 2005. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a $5 spaghetti supper, followed by a free concert and a series of raffles conducted throughout the evening. The free concert begins at 6:30 p.m.
The concert will feature 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.
Johnson penned the Rascal Flatts song Skin (Sarabeth), which tells the story of a brave young girl facing cancer. “Sara heard it one time,” said Sara’s dad, Eddie Kennedy. “We played it for her and she loved it, but then she said, ‘I don’t think I want to hear it anymore.’ It’s still tough. But Doug is wonderful, and he brings people (from Nashville) who go on to be stars.”
Also joining Friday’s celebration will be special guest film and TV star Muse Watson.
Guests have the chance to buy raffle tickets for an assortment of prizes, including certificates 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. Tickets are priced at $1 and $5, depending on the value of the item.
“Half of this town gives us something to raffle,” said Norma Kennedy, Sara’s mom. “We get a Warren May dulcimer every year that’s just for us. It’s just wonderful.”
All of the prizes are donated, but in addition, many hours are donated by loyal friends and community members who make the event possible every year. “There are so many friends who work themselves silly every year. But it’s all a labor of love. There are so many people who help that we couldn’t possibly list all of them.”
The tradition of the SaraCare Celebration began in 2005. Friends had planned a benefit concert in Sara’s honor for April 2005, but she succumbed to cancer in March of that year. Rather than cancel the benefit, Eddie and Norma allowed the event to go on, and many people have been helped in the years since.
Since 2005, the SaraCare Fund has raised over $200,000 to assist children and families at U.K. Children’s Hospital. This year, the Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Clinic will again benefit from SaraCare. The fund has also aided the Matt Ross Fund to provide scholarships for children to play baseball and softball at Berea City Park, and it has provided scholarships for students at both Berea Community High School and Madison Southern High School. To date, over $50,000 in student scholarships have been awarded in Sara’s memory.
Though the mission of the SaraCare Fund is to help families in need, the celebration also helps to “keep alive the laugh, the smile, the legacy and the memory of Sara Elizabeth Kennedy.” Guests have the chance to see that memory come alive when, just before intermission, a six-minute film will be shown in which Sara describes how she learned about having cancer and how she decided to handle it.
The film combines the talents of Sara’s friends, Janton Barrineau and Jacob Kirby, who created the images and music that accompany Sara’s words, which are a testament to how she confronted her illness with courage, laughter and grace.
“She was beautiful. She told everything in her own words. She looks at the camera at one point and says ‘There has to be a reason for this, some purpose for all of this. And 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. We see that as the purpose — to help others. She always was like that. Sara was ridiculously nice,” Kennedy recalled with a smile.