Gracie Purdy, in whose honor Gracie’s Big Splash is held in Belleair every year.
BELLEAIR – Expect to see hundreds of people on the grounds of the Dimmitt Community Center, 918 Osceola Road, on Friday, Aug. 15, 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Martin Purdy, Gracie’s dad, said Friday afternoon that despite the rain, "the Splash is still on!"
The big end of summer event, Gracie’s Big Splash, is celebrating its eighth anniversary and it has become the place to be especially if you are a kid who likes to get wet.
Gracie’s Big Splash was begun by the Purdy family of Belleair in 2007 as a way to help pay medical expenses associated with their daughter Gracie, who was 5. She had incurable cancer but managed to attend the first “splash” with her parents. She died a short time later but the family decided to keep the Splash going as a way to honor Gracie’s memory and to help others who are going through what they had to endure back then.
Through the Gracie G. Purdy Foundation all the money raised by the event goes to helping others.
“I would say we’re finding healing through working with the foundation,” said Llisiana Purdy, Gracie’s mom. “We think of the foundation as an extension of Gracie. We can’t have her here with us but through the foundation we think of her goodness and the love we have for her. That is how we’re helping other families heal.”
Martin Purdy said they find the needy families through Suncoast Hospice and the Stepping Stone project, which is dedicated to sick children.
“We work with the people who see first-hand the need,” he said. “Typically, I’ll get a call from a nurse or social worker about someone who is about to have their power turned off because they couldn’t afford to pay their bill. In one instance the power company was actually at the house ready to disconnect the power when I was able to make a phone call, settle the bill and keep the power on for at least another month.”
Purdy said there are other examples of how the foundation has been able to help.
“Cars are broken down and the families are too busy caring for their sick child or are too strapped for money to be able to fix it,” he said. “Perhaps the mom or dad has had to quit work. Losing the car can be a disaster. We’ve been able to help a lot with those kinds of problems through my company Wayne Purdy European Motors in Clearwater.”
Purdy noted that on several occasions the foundation has had to help with funeral expenses.
Nolan Purdy, 16, is Gracie’s only sibling. He was 8 when she died and he’s seen firsthand how his family has coped with her death and the work they put in to make the Splash happen every year. His dad says he’s done his share.
“He is actually in charge of the grounds this year,” he said. “He’s getting it setup, he’s learning a lot about helping other people.”
In fact Nolan may make a life out of helping people. He is a junior at Palm Harbor University High School and is enrolled in the Medical Magnate program with hopes of becoming a doctor to someday treat children with diseases such as Gracie’s.
For now though there is work to be done. The family and volunteers have turned the field next to the Community Center into a water-filled playground where children can romp around in safety to get as wet and as dirty as they please.
Llisiana Purdy said none of it could happen without the volunteer help.
“They aren’t just here for the Splash, they are helping us all year-round,” she said. “We would not be able to do this by ourselves. The Splash is not just a community effort, it is a living thing. Volunteers, donors, sponsors, everyone is Gracie’s Big Splash and her goodness.”
Her husband agrees.
“What she said about it being a living thing, I feel the same way. When you see all these people coming together, it is a personal thing, it is not an obscure charity,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody and why we are doing it. It is an outpouring of love.”
The future of Gracie’s Big Splash seems secure. Each year it gets bigger and more popular and with it comes more money for the Foundation to help others. Purdy said they intend to tweak the focus of the Foundation in the years ahead.
“Moving forward we want to do more than just put out fires,” he said. “We want to help the children, perhaps with a trip to the ballpark or the movies. We want to bring some joy to the kids as well and incorporate them more into the service we provide.”
Through it all, no matter how busy they become, the Purdy’s said they will never forget the reason they began the Big Splash in the first place; Gracie.
Mom Llisiana recalled the very first Gracie’s Big Splash eight years ago.
“I can remember bits and pieces of that first event. I can remember she was with me. After all these years I’m reminded of it,” she said. “It doesn’t fill all the voids living without her, but it has helped to allow us to have peace and harmony and that’s how we see it.”
Admission to Gracie’s Big Splash is a donation of $10 per person. Children 2 and younger get in free.
Revised to include time and that the weather is not canceling the event.