Some people spend their entire lives looking for their purpose. Chelsea Berler wasn’t one of those people.
“She’s like no other person I’ve ever met,” says Chelsea’s husband, Mark Berler. “She had one unique capability, and I don’t know how she learned it — maybe it was the way she was wired — but when you were in a room with Chelsea, she made sure you knew you were the most important person in the room. She just loved to listen to people.”
Chelsea passed away at the age of 34 after battling breast cancer. Even while fighting for her life, however, Chelsea found a way to bring light and joy to others. Instead of going quietly, Chelsea made sure the friends and family she left behind had clear direction on how to continue her mission of improving peoples’ lives. By creating The Foye Belle Foundation, Chelsea ensured those who followed in her footsteps wouldn’t feel so alone — even if she wasn’t there to provide them comfort.
The Foye Belle Foundation is one of five charity partners of the 30A 10K Thanksgiving Day Race, recognized as one of the top 10 Thanksgiving Day races in the South. The mission of the 30A 10K is to raise money for local charities with a focus on families and children in need. Now in the race’s 8th year, the event has donated a total of $350,000 to local nonprofits. The race is especially excited to be partnered with the Foye Belle Foundation because of the difference it makes in the lives of those facing cancer. For more information about the race, the charities the event supports, and ways to volunteer and register to run, please go to www.30a10k.com. Registration is limited and the event expects to sell out. The race features a 10K, 5K and 1 mile fun run and takes place along scenic highway 30A, where runners can enjoy a flat and fast course along the picturesque dune lakes of South Walton, Florida.
“When we first heard about the Foye Belle Foundation, it really touched our hearts,” said co-race director Amy Stoyles. “Who among us hasn’t been touched by a cancer diagnosis either personally or through a friend or family member? Their mission to help people as they go through this most difficult time is heartwarming and we hope our partnership allows them to expand and reach even more of those in need in the future.”
The Foye Belle Foundation was started while Chelsea underwent chemotherapy. While surrounded with plenty of support, she noticed other patients weren’t receiving as much attention. Specifically, she noticed others weren’t getting care items that make the chemo process a little more bearable.
“When people found out Chelsea had cancer, she got a lot of things,” Mark says. “So we would take whatever she got a duplicate of and put it in the common area.”
Within minutes, Mark says, the items were gone. That’s when Chelsea realized not everyone was afforded such great support. So, she decided to do something about it.
Instead of raising money to fight cancer, Chelsea and Mark decided to do something they knew would make an immediate impact in their community. They decided to start assembling care bags containing all the items Chelsea knew cancer patients would use — like ChapStick, hand sanitizer, coloring books, tea and blankets. The first 25 bags cost the pair $5,000 in donation money.
“Every single item, all 20-plus items, are based on things she actually used during chemo,” Mark says of the bags’ contents.
Initially, Chelsea and Mark — and their growing troop of volunteers — didn’t invest much in the actual bag that housed the care items. However, they soon discovered that the bag was more than a delivery vehicle. The bag became a source of strength for the recipient who after finishing chemotherapy would have the bag as a reminder of their journey — and a reminder that someone out there cared about them.
Mark says he can’t begin to count the amount of emails he’s received commenting on the bag and how it has become a symbol of strength long after patients finish treatment. “The items get used, but the bag is there forever,” he says.
And just like that, the “Blue Bag Movement” was born. Since the initiative began, the movement has become an international endeavor that continues to touch countless people walking through some of the darkest days of their lives. The meaning behind the bag’s color is to remind recipients that when they’re feeling blue, they can reach for something that’ll lift their spirits.
And, as for the foundation’s name — Foye Belle — that was also an intentional choice made by Chelsea. Her grandmother, Foye Belle, died from breast cancer. Now, her legacy — along with Chelsea’s — is still going strong.
“We talked a lot about the future,” Mark says of his and Chelsea’s last days together. “But for Foye Belle, it was a given that I would take it over because we started it together. It just made the most sense. Her sisters are still on the board; my daughter is on the board – it’s all close to our hearts.”
Even though Chelsea isn’t here to see the wonderful thing she created, Mark says he has no doubt her hand is still in the cause. Her legacy is still being felt by thousands.
“I didn’t really understand the magic of what we do until recently,” Mark says. “When you have cancer, cancer owns you. It decides when you’re tired, when you’re hungry, when you feel sick, when you have strength. You own nothing. What happens when we send this bag, this person owns their happiness again. For that moment, they are not under the control of cancer and they’re elated to receive something they didn’t expect. That’s the magic in what we do. We give them back the strength and ownership of their life.”
The 30A 10K takes place Thursday, November 28, 2019, in Rosemary Beach, Florida. Learn more about how you can support The Foye Belle Foundation as well as the race’s additional charity partners — Anchorage Children’s Home, Girls Inc., the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, and the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance — at 30a10k.com.
This article is sponsored by 30A 10K.