At Healing By The Sea, the idea of a stress-free environment that is naturally associated with warm sand and the crashing waves is believed to be a source of healing.
For 26 years, the group’s Fenwick Island and Ocean City facilities have helped to distract pediatric cancer patients and their families from hospital rooms and treatment.
“Pediatric cancer patients go to escape from the stressful routine of medical treatment in a relaxing environment,” founder and CEO Brian Morrison said. “It’s often one of the first times that they and their families can get away and enjoy each other’s company, to escape the anxieties and tensions of the medical world. It’s an opportunity to experience some normalcy within a situation that is anything but normal.”
Morrison formed Healing By The Sea 30 years ago. As a volunteer in a pediatric cancer clinic, he noticed many of the families were unable to relax.
That idea spiraled and eventually led Morrison to begin to lease condos on the beach. In the first year of business, the condo was 100-percent booked.
Seven years later, one condo has turned into seven condos and town houses near the water, providing getaways year-round.
“Many families find an experience they’ll remember throughout their lives,” Morrison said. “Creating an experience like that, that’s a reward that is vitally important. Being part of a group that is improving the lives of children and families is a thrilling experience.”
Over the years, Healing By The Sea has made an effort to personalize each experience. Family coordinators work with families and their medical teams to obtain information about the patients and their families’ interests and place them in an appropriate venue.
Lindsay Brown, a program coordinator with Healing By The Sea for more than two years, said the experience of being around those families is both rewarding and humbling.
“Being with these families and seeing how strong these kids are — it’s amazing to give them an opportunity to get away and forget about it, even if its just for a week,” Brown said. “It puts everything into perspective.”
Healing By The Sea provides services to more than 10,000 people each year, about 500 in the Maryland and Delaware beaches.
And the community is doing its part as well.
Local businesses and restaurants allow for free meals, surf lessons, putt-putt golf, parasailing, deep-sea fishing and a slew of other day and nighttime activities.
“You can sense a giving nature of people that live and work and start businesses on the coastal areas of Delaware and Maryland,” Morrison said. “The spirit of volunteerism that exists has been vitally important to the success of our programs.”
Many families, however, just prefer to stay in and enjoy the scenic surroundings and their family’s company.
At 66th Street in Ocean City, there are four units, a communal deck and access to indoor and outdoor pools. On 28th Street, there’s a double deck overlooking the sunset. And in the Mallard Lakes Community in Fenwick Island, there’s an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a lake for fishing.
Many times, families end up forming bonds. The children and the families understand what each other are going through and often return together on their next trip.
“It’s great for the kids not to feel singled out. They can be with each other and bounce stories off one another and feel like they’re not alone,” Brown said. “They’re with families who are going through the same exact things.”
And families are encouraged to make as many trips as they’d like while their child is undergoing treatment.
Many times, Morrison said, families must cope with up to three years of intense hospital treatment. Healing By The Sea has a place for them to escape to year-round.
“We encourage families to use our facilities on an ongoing basis throughout their child’s treatment,” he said. “They may go to the mountains during the winter and the beaches in the summer.”
Applicants who are suffering from a life-threatening illness or undergoing active treatment are eligible for up to one year after their treatment is complete.
Some applicants wait up to one year before they get to visit the beach, and the waiting list can reach 200 at times. But people are never rejected.
Healing By The Sea is currently in the early phases of building a new location in Bethany Beach.
“No matter where they are, they’re just happy to be away from that day-to-day hospital setting,” Brown said. “They just need a break.”