A group representing Blossoms of Hope traveled to the Japanese embassy on April 12 to celebrate the beauty of cherry trees in Washington, D.C., and in Howard County. The event, which celebrated the 2016 National Cherry Blossom Festival, also celebrated the planting, in 2013, of three Japanese tree saplings by Blossoms of Hope, as well as the nonprofit’s 11 years of work related to cherry blossoms.

Blossoms of Hope has a mission of beautifying the community while raising awareness of breast cancer prevention and raising money to benefit those coping with all types of cancer. The saplings were planted as “legacy” trees in the Kennedy Gardens around Lake Kittamaqundi, along with 20 Kwanzan cherry trees as part of a special “Maggie Brown Grove,” named for the former Columbia Association (CA) president who passed away in 2010.

One of the Maggie Brown Grove trees has been purchased and dedicated to Stacie Hunt, president and CEO of Leadership Howard County (LHC), by LHC alumni class of 2002. There are 18 still available for sponsorship, as are two of the Legacy trees in the Kennedy Gardens, named for Padriac Kennedy, the first president of CA. In addition, cherry trees and native dogwood trees are available for purchase via the Blossoms of Hope website, and can be planted on public land or in private yards.

Last year, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Blossoms of Hope donated 100 trees to both survivors and caretakers associated with the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center.

Beautifying the County

Becky Mangus, publisher of The Business Monthly, was among some 400 guests who attended the reception at the Japanese embassy. Mangus has been on the board of Blossoms of Hope since its creation and is also co-chair of the cherry tree project. “Looking back to the founding of Blossoms of Hope, its first goal has always been to beautify Howard County,” she said.

“It’s such a significant reason. That was our core reason for first being founded. For me, I’m happy to support great organizations such as the cancer resource center, but the bottom line is really to make Howard County beautiful in the spring and draw tourists to Howard County,” Mangus said.

Blossoms of Hope promotes cherry tree season not just in Howard County, but in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and other regions, she said.

Joe Barbera, co-owner of AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar, of Columbia, as well as chair of the Blossoms of Hope board, gave a presentation about Blossoms of Hope at the embassy reception.

Back in Howard County, he also talked about the “Pink Plates” specials offered by Howard County restaurants each April. “Pink Plates always does well,” he said. “We have so many customers who wish to support the community. We’re fortunate to live in an area where people pay attention to good causes.”

Events, Enthusiasm

A record 450 people turned out for the Pretty-in-Pink Champagne Ladies Luncheon and Fashion Show, which was held at Turf Valley. Guests included first lady of Maryland Yumi Hogan, as well as models who were all breast cancer survivors.

Mimi O’Donnell, president of O’Donnell Consulting and a Blossoms of Hope board member, has managed a major Blossoms of Hope fundraising effort — the Pink Greens Golf Classic, at Turf Valley — for eight consecutive years. “Our fundraisers are thriving, and through these efforts we can help patients, their families and friends,” she said.

One of the newest fundraisers, “Power of the Purse,” has had particularly strong growth. Scheduled for June 13 at the Fretz Sub-Zero & Wolf Showroom, the event features gently-used and vintage purses available for cash and carry. New and designer handbags, some of which will be filled with goodies, will be included in a silent auction.

The local arts community is also involved in Blossoms of Hope. Artist April Rimpo has been participating in an exhibit at the Columbia Art Center for Blossoms of Hope for four years. “The first year, the theme was to create art that would be paired with a haiku poem,” said Rimpo. “It was challenging and motivating to create a painting appropriate to the Blossoms of Hope theme and the poem.”

Last year was the first year after Rimpo’s mother’s death from cancer, she said, so it was “very special to create a painting in celebration of her.”

Each year has brought a new and different challenge, she said. “In some ways, I think my creativity is rejuvenated by having to work through my thoughts on the theme and come up with a creative way to portray what I feel.”

This year, Rimpo’s painting, entitled “Movement II,” is, she said, “a tribute to those who rise up after a life or health challenge to participate in cancer walks or multiple sclerosis bike rides or just get out and do something physical for themselves because they have a new lease on life.”

Maintaining Support

It’s not just the events but the sustained enthusiasm and dedication that make Blossoms of Hope a special organization, said Pete Mangione, general manager of Turf Valley. Like Mangus, he has been on the Blossoms of Hope board since its inception.

Mangione said the enthusiasm from the board and within the community is so high that it seems as if Blossoms of Hope is beginning anew every year. “We have a great board with some new members and we have a lot of energy,” he said. “I think there will be some great things happening in these next few years as we move on to the next level.”

The Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center is 100% run by donations, said Leslie Rogers, the center’s director. “And, even more amazing, all of the money stays within the center to assist the community,” she said.

The center supports all people affected by all cancers, not just breast cancer. About one-third of the people who use the center’s resources are men, and about half of the people who use the center are affected by forms of cancer other than breast cancer. “Cancer is an equal opportunity offender, and the threat to mortality, identity and the struggle to survive is mirrored by all, regardless of their tumor site,” said Rogers.

“We really believe in the work we are doing at the center,” she said, “and it is the community we serve, and the community at large, that keeps us going and humbles us every day.”