Painting with a purpose in Miller Place

Painting with a purpose in Miller Place

Melissa Firmes, at center, the founder of Kids Need More, with her husband John, at the Kids Need paint night fundraising event. Photo by Kevin Redding

Locals unleashed their inner artists this week to ensure a fun summer for local kids coping with cancer.

At the Paint Pallet Party for Kids Need More, hosted at Recipe Seven in Miller Place May 16, families, friends and complete strangers bonded for a night of painting and fundraising to benefit the nonprofit’s six-week summer camp at Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island. The proceeds will help cover the expensive costs of transporting kids from their home to the camp.

North Shore residents attended a paint party at Recipe Seven in Miller Place to help support nonprofit Kids Need More. Photo by Kevin Redding

The camp, which kicks off June 26 and runs until July 28, is a fun-filled program where kids with life-threatening illnesses and special challenges overcome their obstacles through horseback riding and other equine-assisted activities. It’s one of several selfless events put on by the volunteers at Kids Need More, a nonprofit organization started in 2013 to enhance the lives of kids between 4 and 14 and their families.

So when Kayla Vigorito and Lula Lukasiewicz, members of the Bohemia-based accounting firm Cerini & Associates, were on the lookout to recognize and help out charitable companies in the area that are making a difference in their community, it didn’t take long to hit the ground running with a fundraiser for the organization.

“Kids Need More is basically Make-A-Wish on steroids,” Lukasiewicz said. “They do so much for the kids, they’re a family to them, and we wanted to help as much as we could. Kayla thought up the idea of a painting fundraiser — it’s all for a good cause and we definitely want to do it again.”

Vigorito said she was thankful so many people came out in support of the cause.

“Every day, we see the kids struggling and they’re sick and we wanted to do our part to help them experience things that the rest of us experience,” Vigorito said. “It’s very exciting that it all came together.”

North Shore residents attended a paint party at Recipe Seven in Miller Place to help support nonprofit Kids Need More and Bohemia accounting firm members and helpers Lula Lukasiewicz and Kayla Vigorito, above. Photo by Kevin Redding

Forty-five painters, all from towns across the North Shore, signed up with an entry fee of $30 to $50, which went toward painting materials supplied by JL Designs and for Kids Need More — and could choose from seven inspirational sayings to paint on either a wooden pallet or mason jars in a flower box. Some of the sayings included “this is us” and “begin each day with a grateful heart.”

Anybody not interested in painting could attend for free with an option to donate to the nonprofit at the door; raffle tickets, a 50/50 and a door prize were given out.

Kristen Pondini, of Wading River, got involved as soon as she heard where the money was going.

“I just like supporting anything that has to do with cancer awareness,” Pondini said. “I think everyone is personally affected by cancer, in one way or another, and I just always like to support those who need it.”

Mount Sinai resident Carol Dunne said she loved the combination of art and donation.

“I just love doing stuff like this,” Dunne said as she made brush strokes to a flower-box. “And doing something for a great cause is always fun. I love getting together and making a difference.”

Melissa Firmes, who founded Kids Need More with her husband John, said the organization runs on small grants and individual donations, so she’s grateful for what Vigorito and Lukasiewicz have done.

North Shore residents, like Michael Carnes, above, attended a paint party at Recipe Seven in Miller Place, on right, to help support children with cancer through the nonprofit Kids Need More. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s really overwhelming and it really came from their hearts,” said Firmes, who was recently diagnosed with cancer herself. “It also makes me feel that I’m around the right people, and really good people. That’s the reason I do what I do … there’s a lot of wonderful people out there who want to do good and sometimes you just need to find an opportunity to do it.”

She said the ideal fund goal for transportation and activities for the kids would be $20,000.

Miller Place resident Fariba Pallas, whose son Jesse was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 when he was  4 and is currently in remission, said the nonprofit makes the kids forget the pain they’re going through.

“My son calls them his family,” Pallas said. “This is not just an organization … they’re involved, they came to visit my son in the hospital day after day. These volunteers that never get paid, who all have jobs or go to school, still find time to get involved with the families and kids. They’ll come to your house if they need to, they’ll dress up in costumes if they need to … these people are amazing.”

Michael Carnes, of Corrective Chiropractic in Miller Place, and his niece Ashley Leung were there as honorary guests for their work in personally delivering Christmas gifts to kids battling life-threatening illnesses. Carnes, who said many of his patients have cancer, assumes the role of Santa for the annual gift drop-off.

“I think it’s important to help children that are in need, that are hurting and struggling,” Carnes said, “and try to make a difference in their lives.”