These visitors were breast cancer patients and their families, and their island vacation was part of the Little Pink Houses of Hope’s annual Spring Retreat.
Now, in case you’ve never heard of the organization, Little Pink Houses of Hope is a non-profit based in Burlington, NC with an underlying mission to promote breast cancer recovery by celebrating life in some of the country’s most beautiful destinations.
And while Hatteras Island certainly qualifies as a beautiful destination to be sure, as it turns out, the island was also the inspiration for Little Pink Houses of Hope to begin with.
On June 15, 2009, founder Jeanine Patten-Coble was diagnosed with breast cancer a day before her family was scheduled to go on vacation in Buxton.
She asked her doctor if she could still go, and he responded with a resounding yes, as well as a warning that “you better go and enjoy yourself, because when you get back, you are ours for the next year.”
So she went, knowing that at some point during the vacation, she would have to tell her 12-year-old son the news of her diagnosis. Early on in her stay, she went on a run just to clear her head, and after turning on Old Lighthouse Road, she came across a familiar sight to locals and longtime Buxton visitors – the Old Coast Guard Housing complex.
“The thought [of those houses] kept running through my head,” says Jeanine on the organization’s website. “’I could paint them pink…Little Pink Houses…I could create a cancer retreat center… families could come to get away from the daily life of cancer…I am supposed to do something amazing with this… [wait], you just found out you have cancer…what are you thinking?’”
Nevertheless, she got the 411 on the houses that week, and while she clearly had other important matters on her mind, the thought of the future “Little Pink Houses” persisted throughout her vacation.
“All week long, these houses kept calling to me, in a way that I cannot explain,” she says on the site. “Sometimes you do not know what you are supposed to do until you trip across your destiny. In my case, I feel like I ran right into it on a warm summer day in my running shoes.”
This impromptu encounter with the abandoned housing complex eventually led to the formation of the Little Pink Houses of Hope, and sure enough, Hatteras Island became the one of the first retreat locations for families who were going through similar circumstances.
“Jeanine wanted to provide a place where you could relax and get away from cancer for a while with people who are just like you,” says Program Relations Director Kathy Gates. “After she finished her treatment, she got everything in order, and Little Pink Houses of Hope started the very next year.”
The retreats are much more than just a quiet island getaway, too – (although that’s certainly a big part of the experience.)
These VIP guests get to enjoy a world of activities that the Outer Banks has to offer, courtesy of generous donations and hardworking volunteers who want to make the vacation as wonderfully memorable as possible.
On this most recent retreat – which fittingly began on Mother’s Day – the families were treated to a “Beach Day” with fire dancing and bonfire courtesy of Koru Village, a Hatteras Village Day with golf carts, kayaks and bikes from A.S. Austin Co, a Pirate Cruise complete with an epic water battle from Cap N Clam & Miss Hatteras, and a wealth of other activities that are almost too numerous to list.
“Many of the churches along the island supply us with wonderful meals, and many of the restaurants help us create an ‘Adult Night Out’ on Wednesdays – We take care of the kids, and the adults go out to dinner just so they can have an evening together,” says Kathy. “There are also many restaurants that donate so families can go out to lunch on Friday. [And on] Wednesday morning, we went to Canadian Hole and all the mothers got to go stand-up paddle boarding thanks to Ocean Cure from Wilmington, NC.”
All of the families stay in vacation homes that are generously donated. “Hatteras Realty has very graciously located properties and homeowners that will provide homes for our families, and they take care of this every year… so a big shout out to them,” says Kathy.
And once the families have arrived, activities and assistance throughout their stay are orchestrated by a group of volunteers who also arrive on the island from all across the country to help. “This year, we had 12 volunteers to help take care of the families,” says Kathy. “And what makes it the ‘Little Pink’ experience is the volunteers who pay their own funds and use their own vacation time to come and be ‘ridiculously present’ in loving these families.”
“[The families] don’t have to do any of the activities during the week,” she adds, “but once we get started, because of the love and fun our volunteers provide, they always join in. They don’t want to miss out on anything! And that’s a great testimony to the people who come to volunteer – Several are breast cancer survivors themselves, so they see the value of this retreat.”
From its initial launch just seven years ago, Little Pink Houses of Hope has grown in size, and in the number of lives they are able to touch.
This year, the Spring Retreat welcomed 11 families and a total of 52 people. The families came from all over the country – from Massachusetts to Iowa to Nebraska – and though no one had bee n to the island before, it didn’t take long for the folks to become Outer Banks fans. “There was not one family from North Carolina, but you better believe that there are now families who want to come back,” says Kathy.
And that’s just for this single event on Hatteras Island.
Little Pink Houses of Hope has also spread to cool destinations all over the country, including Florida, the Virgin Islands, Scottsdale, Lake Tahoe, Ocean City, and Orange Beach, Alabama.
But there’s still a soft spot at the heart of the organization for Hatteras Island.
It’s where Little Pink Houses began, after all, and local businesses and volunteers have been instrumental in making the vacation experience a true getaway for breast cancer patients and their families.
“We could not do what we do without the gracious generosity of the Hatteras Island residents,” says Kathy. “It is amazing and heartwarming to see how much Hatteras Island cares about these families.”
“The generosity of small communities with big hearts is just mind boggling – Especially knowing that Hatteras Island suffered so much last fall, and yet they still poured generosity into our families and our retreat.”
“We are honored and humbled to be beneficiaries of such love and service.”
How You Can Help
Little Pink Houses of Hope hosts two retreats on Hatteras Island – a spring retreat designed for families, and a fall retreat for couples.
The organization can always use all the “beach necessities” for vacationing families – from paper products, to cleaning kits, to beach towels and water bottles – as well as gift cards for local restaurants and grocery stores. (Non-necessities – like little gifts, jewelry, or just a card are always welcome as well.)
To find out more about the organization and how to help, visit https://www.littlepink.org/ or email the local Hatteras Island coordinator [email protected]