A Benefit of Love: Event Raises Money to Help Vershire Girl Fight Cancer
Yvonne O'Keefe, of Enfield, N.H., talks with Courtney Powers, 10, of Vershire, Vt., after Powers arrived at a jamboree held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 13, 2013. Along with two other bands, O'Keefe's band Yvonne and the Reverbs donated their time to the event to raise money for Powers' medical care. At right is Chip Powers, Courtney's father. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Roxy Maxfield, of Thetford, Vt., looks at raffle items to benefit her relatives, the Powers family of Vershire, Vt. It was part of a jamboree fundraiser held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 13, 2013. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Ghostrider bass player Stewart Fortune, of Warner, N.H., tunes his instrument before taking the stage to play at a jamboree fundraiser held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 13, 2013. Three bands donated their time to help raise money for the Powers family. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Norma Vincent, of Sharon, Vt., and Lefty Santaw, of Enfield, N.H., take a break from selling raffle tickets to take a spin on the dance floor as the band Yvonne and the Reverbs play at a jamboree fundraiser held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 13, 2013. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — In many ways, Sunday’s benefit for 10-year-old Courtney Powers seemed like a normal afternoon at the White River VFW.
There was dancing to live bands while volunteers grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and tended bar. Vertical Christmas lights dangled from the ceiling.
But the benefit for Courtney, who was diagnosed in February with a desmoplastic small round cell tumor, was the reason behind the gathering. A sign in the front of the VFW asked patrons for $5 donations and inside, donated items were being raffled. One-hundred percent of the proceeds went to the Powers family.
“It’s just amazing,” said Heather Powers, Courtney’s mom, shortly after the family drove down from its home in Vershire and made a quiet entrance at 2 p.m. Sunday. “It gets overwhelming (for Courtney).”
The youngster, for years — and long before the diagnosis — has been equal parts stubborn and shy. She makes sure to insert herself into meetings her parents have with her doctors, but takes care to avoid being photographed under all circumstances.
She doesn’t care for the limelight, her parents said, and they have had trouble parsing how she’s felt about the three benefits held in her honor.
The first, held in June, was at an annual mud bog event in Thetford. The next, late last month, was a chicken dinner at the Lebanon American Legion Post 22. And then there was Sunday’s rendezvous, a five-hour celebration soundtracked by local bands such as Yvonne and the Reverbs.
The Vermont fundraisers were primarily organized by Jason Brooker, a newer VFW member who heard of Courtney through a network of friends-of-friends and decided to help out. Due to Brooker’s work planning the two benefits, Crystal Moses, Courtney’s aunt, has started called Brooker the “wedding planner.”
Moses said the initial February diagnosis was “devastating” for the family, and questions about paying for both Courtney’s medical bills and the normal bills came up quickly.
But the positive community response has helped greatly, said Moses, of White River Junction, even though there will long be the lingering uncertainty about Courtney’s condition.
“The worst part about cancer is there’s never an answer,” Moses said.
For now, Courtney’s parents said, there is no active cancer. A June surgery removed the tumor and that was followed by a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Those with this type of tumor, according to a 2005 paper in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery , have a 55 percent three-year survival rate if they receive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. And it’s all compounded by the immune system disorder Courtney has had since birth.
Courtney has seven more chemotherapy treatments before the family gets a sense of what happens next from her doctors. Chip Powers, Courtney’s father, said the family is staying in the present.
“We’re just trying to get through the treatments before we look to the next thing,” he said, standing just outside the VFW building.
Inside, the music played on and the dancing continued. Along with the raffle items — concert tickets, wooden cutting boards, gift cards — there were food donations, like bagels and pies.
Moses pointed to one donation, from an anonymous well-wisher. It was a framed white canvas, lightly colored, outfitted with several words. On the outside of the canvas was the phrase: “Stay Strong. Shine Bright.” And on the inside:
“Twinkle twinkle little star,” it said, the text printed next to a star made up of five folded $2 bills. “Do you know how loved you are?”
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3242.