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A foundation and a yacht club join hands to bring a day of thrills to kids suffering from cancer.
Published Jul. 8, 2010

As Black Eyed Peas' tunes blasted from the stereo, and the Gulf of Mexico breeze whipped across their faces, 12 youngsters crowded at the front of a 32-foot angler boat Tuesday afternoon, their eyes plastered on the horizon.

Suddenly, a gray fin emerged above the waves. Raleigh Johnson, 7, gasped in delight.

"I saw one!" he shouted. "A dolphin! They're right there!"

About 30 campers and volunteers from Oncology Summer Camp, a one-week program organized by the Children's Cancer Center in Tampa, paid a visit to the Clearwater Yacht Club on Tuesday for a day on, and in, the water.

Split up into three groups, the children rotated between chowing down on hamburgers and hot dogs, pushing one another off floaties in the yacht club's swimming pool and venturing out on a vessel owned by local boater Jack Vasilaros, 20.

That maritime outing was sponsored in part by Olivia Lives, a local foundation that helps to provide safe and fun outings for children and teenagers suffering from cancer. The organization is named after Olivia Ceraolo, a Palm Harbor teen who died of bone cancer in 2004, at age 16.

Olivia was a sailor at the Clearwater Yacht Club who competed at an international level. In 2002, she went to Bermuda to represent the United States in the North American Championship for the Optimist Dinghy Class.

Carla Ceraolo, Olivia's mother, says it is comforting to watch other children who are battling cancer spend a joyful day in the same waters that her oldest daughter loved so dearly.

"I know she's looking down and seeing all the kids enjoying themselves on the water, and I know that's making her happy," Ceraolo said.

This isn't the first time that participants in the Oncology Summer Camp made a trip to the Clearwater Yacht Club.

Last year, the group spent a couple of hours at the club swimming pool. But because of this year's partnership with Olivia Lives, event organizers were able to find a boater willing to take the children out for a bit of dolphin spotting.

Gabbie Davidson, 19, of Palm Harbor is a cancer survivor and a chaperone at the camp. Surrounded by rolling waves and sprightly sea creatures, she said camp doesn't get much better than this.

"For once, we're not worried about getting hurt," Davidson said. "We're more worried about having fun and making friends."

Martine Powers can be reached at or (727) 445-4224.

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HOW TO HELP: Though children of all ages suffer from cancer, the vast majority of items donated to cancer centers are toys for kids 8 years old and younger. Olivia Lives, a local foundation that helps to provide safe and fun outings for children and teenagers suffering from cancer, is collecting electronics such as laptop computers, iPods, DVDs and video games for hospital-bound teenagers. To donate, contact Judy Widger, a former director at the Clearwater Yacht Club, at (727) 643-0088.