Saturday on the sand: giving hope to kids with cancer by 'kicking it' on the beach

June 06, 2014  |  Posted by Alana Garrigues

If a mother’s greatest gift is her child’s pure, unbridled smile, then perhaps the greatest tribute to a family’s love is a photographer’s promise to perfectly capture that youthful gleam in a picture that will live on forever.

That is exactly what Herb Irvine strives for. But his subjects aren’t average kids — they are children battling cancer and life-threatening illnesses. From babies to teens, Irvine photographs children and their families in the face of tumultuous times, and offers them a moment of levity and joy to remember. He makes it happen through Flashes of Hope, a volunteer nonprofit dedicated to creating a free photo album for pediatric oncology patients and their families.

And this Saturday, Irvine, of Redondo Beach, is asking all South Bay residents and their friends to join him in the fight against pediatric cancer. He’s hosting a kickball tournament on the sand south of the Hermosa Beach Pier through Kick-It for Children’s Cancer, a program raising money for Flashes of Hope.

Most children Irvine photographs have been diagnosed with cancer, but he occasionally photographs kids fighting other illnesses as well. Sometimes his subjects pass away shortly after their photo sessions, while others get to grow up.

There was the infant boy who hadn’t opened his eyes in two weeks, but fluttered his eyelids open to share a few last glimpses straight into the camera before passing away hours later. There was the young girl in need of a heart transplant, who moved her photo session from this Wednesday to the Friday before, losing her life just two days later. Her family is grateful to have her smiles on film before she had to go.

Rather than ache with sadness over the children lost, Irvine rejoices in the fact that he could give their families the gift of a smile, a laugh, a final family photo attached to a happy memory. He is amazed at how often the children seem to intuitively know how badly their families need those portraits before they go, living long enough to make it through a photo session and a few hours of happiness in their last weeks of life. He marvels at their wisdom.

“You meet these amazing kids, and a lot of them know they’re going to die, especially the older kids…and they’re more worried about their family and what they’re going to do,” Irvine said. “Even the younger ones, they’re just different. They’re special. I always have to look at it like maybe they’re needed somewhere else.”

Parents sometimes tell him that his photo sessions are the first time in days, even months, that they see their kids just get to be kids, smiling and laughing, and goofing around, playing the princess or the superhero.

Then there are the happy stories — children who are photographed with the machines that keep them alive, give them medicine, and help them recover. Irvine tells those children to share their machines with pride, for one day, he tells them, they will show their grandchildren the photos of the pride and courage they were forced to adopt in the face of fear. They smile and know that they are strong and brave, and many of them do make it through recovery.

Irvine has been volunteering to help kids with cancer for more than 15 years now. He started volunteering at Children’s Hospital in Boston, then got involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He continued his volunteer work when he moved out to California and found Flashes of Hope. He applied to be the Director of the Los Angeles region and was granted the volunteer position. Now he volunteers his time traveling to pediatric oncology units across the region, taking pictures. Once the day is done, he goes home to edit the photos and creates an 8 by 10 memory book for every family.

Kick-It was founded in Ohio in 2009 by 10-year-old Quinn Clarke during his second battle with cancer as a way to raise money for Flashes of Hope. Clarke asked his parents if he could have a kickball game to raise money for research. So far, Kick-It has raised more than $2 million to support pediatric cancer research, the No. 1 disease killer of children.

Irvine hopes to raise $10,000 at this year’s Hermosa Beach event, and has promised to shave his head the night before the event if he breaks that amount in pledges. As of press time, he had about $1,700 to go. His goal is to make Kick-It On The Beach an annual event in the beach cities.

Teams can be made up of any number of people ages 10 and older, and are encouraged to raise at least $500. Irvine said he’ll take sign-ups through the day of the event, whether whole teams want to come down to play, or individuals want to sign on. He’s happy to create teams or add new members to teams on the spot, and he doesn’t care how much money people have to give. His primary goal is to raise awareness, because he knows the stories of the children he works with “change lives.”

He hopes entire families come down to play and support Flashes of Hope’s mission, and fight pediatric cancer.

Proceeds from the tournament, as well as T-shirt and knee-high sock sales, will go to funding Flashes of Hope for the year, and extra monies will go to pediatric cancer research.

Kick-It participants are asked to dress up as their favorite super hero, and come ready for fun. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the sand near 10th Street and The Strand in Hermosa Beach.

To join in, contact Irvine at (310) 901-5669 or, or head down to the beach Saturday between 11 a.m. and noon to register.

Check donations will also be accepted before or after the event. Those can be made out to “Kick-It” and mailed to Irvine at P.O. Box 672, Redondo Beach, CA 90277.

In addition to kickball players, Irvine is always looking for volunteers who can help with events, photography and make-up for his Flashes of Hope projects.

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