Cancer Survivors Park. Will Crooks/Greemville Journal

From its winding pathways, gardens, and bridges to the soaring steel frame of the Celebration of Hope Pavilion, Greenville’s Cancer Survivors Park is designed to celebrate survival, foster community, and channel the healing power of nature. Spanning nearly two decades from its inception to its opening in June, it’s also a testament to the tenacity of its founders and members of the Cancer Survivors Park Alliance.

Two previously chosen sites didn’t work out, and the third, donated by the Naturaland Trust and Renewable Water Resources, was hard to access and overgrown with kudzu. Despite unforeseen obstacles and unexpected costs, organizers never lost faith that the park would live up to its promise.

Thanks in part to the Community Foundation, the CSPA now has a road map to make the journey going forward easier. A Capacity Building Grant of $16,700 was used to develop a three-year strategic plan, as the alliance transitions from construction of the park to the creation of a collaborative network of programs and services for survivors and their families.

“Our focus with this type of grant is to help organizations be more effective through strategic planning,” said Bob Morris, Community Foundation president. “This is an important transition for them, so this was a good time for them to plan for sustainability and what they need for the future.”

“The strategic planning session was critical and we’re so appreciative for that opportunity,” said Kay Roper, CSPA executive director. “We hope to be the boots on the ground to help connect survivors with resources already successfully in place in the Upstate while putting a plan together to address what’s still needed. We asked, ‘How do we share survivors’ stories and get people the help they need?’”

One avenue is by offering support groups and therapeutic arts programs at the Center for Hope & Healing, sponsored by Greenville Health System. Over 30 programs have already been held and more are in the works, including painting, yoga, journaling, nutrition classes, and music therapy.

The alliance is exploring the use of new technology for signage with interactive touch screens that allow visitors to select information on types of cancer and survivor profiles. The park’s location between Falls Park and Cleveland Park along the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail provides a unique opportunity to touch many lives.

“Estimates say over 500,000 people walk the Swamp Rabbit Trail every year. Imagine the impact of these stories for people who are living with cancer, experiencing it through a loved one, or who will be diagnosed in the future,” Roper said. “Even those who are too sick to walk can see the Beacon of Hope from a car. Every type of cancer has a color, like pink for breast cancer, so we’re working with Hubbell Lighting to use colored lights to bring awareness for different types of cancer in each month and honor those survivors.”

Roper, whose younger sister died of breast cancer, leaving two young children, is herself a survivor in the broader sense shared by Tom Bates, CSPA board chairman. Bates’ daughter, Lindsey Bates Motley, inspired Lindsey’s Leap of Faith, a special section of the canopied boardwalk overlooking the Reedy River.

Motley, who was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 26 and died at age 29, left many survivors, including her parents, sister, husband, and daughter, and a whole community of people who came to know her as she bravely shared her journey publicly.

“A survivor is someone who has beaten cancer, and this park is about celebration; but survivorship also includes those left behind, and anyone who accompanies someone on that journey,” Bates said.

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