Celebrating HOPE 365 days a year

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

For people whose lives have been threatened by heart disease, cancer and diabetes, every holiday is a little sweeter.
For the 12th annual Festival of Hope, teams will be celebrating not only the major holidays like Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July, but the little ones, too.
NMMC Community Health will be feting Penguin Awareness Day; Renasant Bank will be taking Mad Hatter Day through the looking glass with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme. In all, 25 teams will celebrate a collection of bizarre and unique holidays from 6 to 9 p.m. March 4 at the Tupelo Furniture Market
“We’re anxious to see how creative people get,” said Bobby Geno, chairman of the 2011 festival.
The festival is open to the community, with a special invitation for survivors of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
“That’s what the festival is all about,” Geno said, “recognizing survivors and giving them special treatment.”
There will be music, dancing, food and children’s activities. Along with the laughs will be a memorial for those who have lost their battle against the three diseases.

A year of work
For the teams, the Festival of Hope celebrates a year’s worth of work on behalf of people fighting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Even the youngest team – students from Rankin Elementary – have been touched by those diseases in some way.
“The individual has the disease, but it impacts the entire family,” Geno said.
Project Hope uses the money raised through the Festival of Hope to make grants to help needy patients, and further education and prevention efforts and to offer scholarships to students pursuing health careers or those whose families have been touched by these diseases.
“We like to shoot for $100,000 each year,” Geno said. The festival has pushed past that mark twice in its 12-year history. In 2010, the festival raised $84,000.

Night of fun
Opening ceremonies will begin at 6 p.m. including recognition of survivors of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, who are asked to register at the beginning of the evening. Survivors will be treated to dinner and bingo. WTVA’s Kay Bain will be on hand this year to greet survivors.
There’s no admission fee, but hot dog and hamburger dinners will be available for $5.
This year, the festival is changing up the line-up to emphasize team competition, like a Christmas wrap-up competition.
“There should be lots of laughs,” Geno said.
Everyone – teams and spectators – will be able to get into the spirit of the evening with some holiday-themed dancing with favorites like the Monster Mash and the Bunny Hop.
Children’s activities, including inflatables and HealthWorks! wacky hats, and the dinner line will open after the opening ceremonies are complete, about 6:45.
“We want to get everybody involved,” Geno said.

Festival of Hope
– What: Celebrating the Holidays with HOPE

– When: 6-9 p.m. March 4

– Where: Tupelo Furniture Market, Building 5

– Admission: free

– Hot dog and hamburger plates: $5 Cancer, diabetes and heart disease survivors receive a complimentary dinner and activities

– Children’s activities: $5 for wristband for inflatables and carnival games.

– Info: Call (662) 377-3867 or (662) 377-4143.