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School builds special float for cancer-stricken boy

Valerie Davis rides float with son Benjamin.Seven-year-old cancer survivor Benjamin Davis was the grand marshal of the 2011 Baker County Lighted Christmas Parade on December 3.

Benjamin, along with his mother Valerie Davis, rode on a special float created just for him by the PreK/Kindergarten Center where he is a student.

“It was so wonderful,” Ms. Davis said earlier this week. “Finding out Ben was to be the Grand Marshal and then having the PreK Center build a float to celebrate his blanket project. I was so impressed at how everyone down there pulled together to do this.

“Benjamin loved it. His favorite part of the float was the lights. And when he saw the blankets he said, ‘Mom! We got even more!”’

Benjamin was diagnosed with cancer last spring and immediately began chemotherapy treatments that conclude December 23. According to his family, doctors have recently given him a “cancer free” report.

The young man, with help from family and friends, launched a community blanket drive earlier in the fall. His goal is to collect blankets this Christmas for the children on the oncology wards at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Nemours Children’s Clinic where he has been a patient.

The Davis family says the response from businesses, schools, churches and individuals in the community has been more than they could have imagined.

With the help of guidance counselor Becky Nix who acted as coordinator, the PreK Center began collecting blankets weeks ago for the cause and to date has accumulated more than 200.

Teachers and staff worked busily on the float at the school district’s maintenance garage across from Baker County Middle School last Friday after school before the Saturday parade.

As they worked, PreK Center principal Bonnie Jones dropped by to check on their progress.

“Benjamin didn’t know about the float, but when I made the school-wide announcement last Thursday morning about it, I was told he was ecstatic at the news,” she told The Press December 2.

So how did the blanket float come to be?

As the date of the Christmas parade drew near, it occurred to teacher Kelly McClarty that the blanket drive would make a great theme for a school float, so a committee was formed to make plans for construction and design.

Principal Jones says it’s the first time the PreK Center has entered a float in the Christmas parade, and to her knowledge, it may be the first time any of the county’s schools have done so.

With Ms. McClarty at the helm, Ms. Nix, teacher Amy Dennison and school data specialist Tammy Brownlee brainstormed to come up with a design and coordinate a trailer and materials for the float.

Ms. Jones gives most of the creative credit for the float’s design to Ms. Dennison, but many teachers and staff turned out to help create the float.

The float featured a cozy, warm living room scene decorated for Christmas with a tree, fireplace, bench and presents.

Colored Christmas lights and music featuring selections from the Little People’s Sing-a-long completed the project. The school expressed its appreciation to Silas Ford, whose daughter Jolie is a kindergarten student at the school, for lending his trailer for the float.

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