By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Grafton – The first Festival of Hope, a fundraising event, will be held Saturday, June 23, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Grafton Common in honor of Julie (Benson) Flynn, a Grafton Middle School guidance counselor who lost her battle with Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) Syndrome at the end of March of this year.
“Julie was my dear friend and I miss her so much,” said Maggie Warfield. “The Grafton community and beyond has been wonderfully supportive. In the seven years that she worked in the school system, she truly did make an impact and connected, not only with the students, but the staff and families as well. She never complained and balanced work, chemotherapy and more all seamlessly.”
The goal of Festival of Hope is to raise awareness for this genetic disease. The day will be fun and festive with numerous activities for participants of all ages. For the younger children, there will be face painting, crafts and more. There will be food and raffles with prizes including an all-inclusive trip for two to Smuggler’s Notch, Red Sox tickets, spa facials, baskets and more. Two of her former students who are now in college, Taylor O’Connor and Amelia Murray, will perform. Proceeds from spaces and table rentals will be donated in honor of Flynn to support the VHL Alliance.
Flynn was first diagnosed at the age of 13 and lost an eye as a result. Throughout her life, she endured many surgeries and chemotherapy.
In a VHL pamphlet that she was interviewed for, Flynn said, “I think living with VHL has made me a more compassionate, empathetic and hopeful person. This is an added asset while working with children. I take my experiences and my own fears that I had as a young child and am able to use patience and understanding while working with children who are facing adversity. It is my hope that I make a difference in someone else’s life.”
Von Hippel-Lindau is a genetic condition involving the abnormal growth of blood vessels, causing patients to battle a series of tumors throughout their life. It affects about 10,000 people in the United States and 200,000 worldwide. There is no known pharmacological treatment and surgery is the only option.
The fundraising effort came about when Warfield’s daughter, Rosie, a Grafton Middle School student, was given an assignment by her social studies teacher. The students were asked to create a hypothetical community service project. In Rosie’s case, not only did she come up with this fantastic idea, but she went ahead and actually executed it resulting in Festival of Hope. Flynn’s niece, Katelyn Dunn, is also helping.
“One of the things that I have found to be most challenging is getting vendors,” Rosie explained. “It has been a lot of work but we already have a lot of businesses that are committed like Jubilee Chocolates, Enchanted Passage, Zia’s Kitchen Table, The Home Field Credit Union and more. While this has been a lot of work, everyone has been so kind and generous and I love that the entire community is coming together.”
For a registration form for table rental/space, contact Warfield at 774-262-4013. To donate to this fund, visit vhl.org/donate and mention Julie Flynn/Festival of Hope in the dedication field.