The island-based charity group Arms Around Bainbridge isn’t your average nonprofit: The group is run entirely by volunteers, with a passion for helping sick people and, as chance would have it, lengthy swims in cold, open water.
The organization was founded in 2007 when seven friends decided to make a 30-mile circumnavigation of Bainbridge Island. The group had a single goal in mind when they stepped into that cold salty water: providing financial and emotional support to a friend, Olivia Carey, as she battled ovarian cancer.
Today, Arms Around Bainbridge continues the work they began in 2007 by organizing various fundraising events like Bingo nights and their annual 30-mile relay swim around the island.
To date, the group has raised $500,000.
This coming Saturday, Aug. 26 will mark the 11th time the group has made the swim around the complete coast of Bainbridge. But history wasn’t the only incentive.
This year, the group was offered a $10,000 matching grant by an anonymous donor. The conditions of the grant stated that if the group managed to bring in more than $10,000, an additional $10,000 would be added to the funds. According to the group’s fundraising site, as of Wednesday, Aug. 23 they had already exceeded their goal after raising $12,470.
Few people understand the importance of Arms Around Bainbridge’s fundraising efforts better than Alice Moye.
Moye is a recipient of the group’s support, both financially and emotionally. For the last 12 years Moye has been in a fight for her life against breast cancer, a fight that brought her across the country from Florida in 2016.
Moye relocated in 2016 in search of a means of survival; an experimental cancer treatment being offered to qualified patients in Seattle. Serendipity also found Moye’s daughter living nearby, on Bainbridge Island at the time.
With her cancer having progressed to stage four and metastasizing to her stomach and esophagus, Moye was unable to eat or drink. Her condition was deteriorating rapidly as her weight — which normally hovered around 160 pounds — plummeted to just 80 pounds. Without enough strength to move or talk, Moye was in desperate need of nourishment when her son suggested a naturopathic approach by incorporating vitamin therapy and protein shakes.
When Moye’s healthcare provider would not pay for the expensive vitamins and protein supplements to bring her back from the brink, it was Arms Around Bainbridge who stepped forward to get her what she needed.
After about three months of using the nutritional supplements Moye began to regain some of her strength. When she met with two of her oncologists, they were in disbelief at her condition.
“They just shake their heads and say, ‘You’re just a miracle,’” Moye said.
Today Moye can continue her fight with more strength than before, thanks to the financial help provided by Arms Around Bainbridge.
Moye says she has also felt firsthand the impact of the group’s emotional support during a time when she began to lose hope while living at an assisted living facility.
“There was a point there where just one morning, I was so down, I said, ‘Lord I just don’t think I can go on.’
“Three hours later, I received a card there at Martha &Mary from a member of Arms Around Bainbridge, encouraging me,” Moye said. “Her exact words were, ‘Don’t give up.’”
Those words were exactly what she needed to hear to continue her fight in that moment, she recalled.
“If you haven’t ever been really sick, you will never understand what it means to have somebody just drop by and see you and say, ‘I brought you some tea, and if you’re up to it, we can sit and talk.’ It’s all those little things that those volunteers do for Arms Around Bainbridge that help the person get better and get through what they’re experiencing.”
Arms Around Bainbridge will begin their celebratory round-the-island relay swim just before sunrise at Blakely Harbor and will conclude in the same harbor at 7 p.m.