Candlelighters Lights the Way for Families Facing Cancer

A child’s cancer diagnosis is devastating for any parent to hear. Forty years ago, two families who received this heartbreaking news joined forces to create Candlelighters, a Las Vegas nonprofit whose mission is to provide “emotional support, quality of life programs, and financial assistance for children and their families affected by childhood cancer.”

Today, Candlelighters works with more than 600 families a year. Any child under the age of 21 who has been diagnosed with cancer qualifies for assistance from Candlelighters. In addition to services such as art and play therapy for the kids, marriage and family therapy, and bereavement support, Candlelighters also helps families financially with mortgage and rental payments, copay reimbursements and travel costs for treatment. Throughout the year, Candlelighters’ dedicated staff of nine hosts quality-of-life events such as movie nights, Halloween parties and family picnics.

The highlight for the kids is the summer camp program, where a team of 130 volunteers takes 60 kids to Camp Independent Firefly in Big Bear, California, for a five-day, four-night medically supervised camp experience. “The children have a week full of swimming, archery and horseback riding, high and low ropes courses, rock climbing and many activities throughout the week,” says Melissa Cipriano, Candlelighters’ executive director. “It’s just an amazing week with these kids where they can forget about their disease. It’s a childhood tradition that we feel is so important they can learn independence and make friends and be with like-minded peers. It’s super-important for their growth and development.”

Candlelighters provides all its services to the families free of charge, and it is able to do so through the help of the community. “We do not receive any state or federal funding as part of our fundraising efforts,” Cipriano says. “We have our two major events per year. We have our general contributions from our community and we also have our grant sources where we receive some funding. But everything we do is solely from donated dollars.”

In addition to financial contributions, the best way to help with Candlelighters is by giving the gift of time. Volunteers are always welcome at events such as the Superhero 5K, one of the nonprofit’s biggest fundraisers of the year. Scheduled in September to coincide with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, participants can either walk or run the event, and all of the money raised goes to Candlelighter families. The event, now in its 29th year and taking place on Sept. 15, will have a kids’ zone with bounce houses, a bone marrow drive and a raffle. Last year, 1,000 participants donned a cape and put smiles on many children’s faces.

It takes not just a family but a whole community to face a cancer diagnosis. Just the knowledge that they’re not alone in this fight can be a source of hope and comfort for children and their families. When Candlelighters began four decades ago, its founders could not have imagined how impactful this organization would be. “It was such a grassroots charity in Las Vegas and has now grown into a medium-sized nonprofit that continues the vision and the mission of the founders,” Cipriani says. “That’s a beautiful thing to be able to have that lasting legacy in our community.”

Candlelighters’ Superhero 5K with Chet Buchanan takes place on Sept. 15 at 8 a.m. The first 500 registrants will receive a cape, and all funds raised benefit the families served by Candlelighters. For more information and to register, visit

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