A few years after succumbing to cancer, a young Poquott resident’s acts of kindness still inspire those he touched in his lifetime and beyond.
Thomas Matthew Miloscia died Oct. 15, 2015, a few days before his 19th birthday. In March 2016, family friends Michelle and Gregory Milano were inspired to create the Thomas Matthew Miloscia Foundation.
“He was really some special kind of kid,” said Michelle Milano, the foundation’s president. “I have four of my own children, but Thomas felt like one of my children, too. He was the sweetest boy. He would always hold open the door. He would give you a kiss, hello or goodbye. If you came home with groceries, he would run right out and help you bring in the groceries.”
When Milano approached Miloscia’s mother, Christine, about starting the nonprofit, the mother said she was honored.
“My son was a tremendous person,” Miloscia said. “He was always about others. He was so selfless.”
During his senior year at Chaminade High School, a private Catholic school in Mineola, Miloscia experienced pain in his hip, which at first was thought to be an injury from running track. Doctors later diagnosed him with a cancer similar to Ewing’s sarcoma. At first, Miloscia was able to attend school, go on the senior trip to Disney World, attend his prom and graduation, according to Milano, but a few months after graduating in 2015 his condition worsened.
His mother said it’s been difficult for her husband, Joe, and their five children, ranging in age from 14 to 24, since her son’s passing, but they try their best to participate in the foundation’s activities.
“It’s such a good feeling to see all those people who truly care about others and just really want to help,” Christine Miloscia said.
“He was always about others. He was so selfless.”
— Christine Miloscia
The foundation immediately set up a scholarship fund to aid future Chaminade students. The board members’ goal is to raise $300,000 for perpetuity, and they have already collected $30,000 toward it. Chaminade has awarded two scholarships in Miloscia’s name, according to Brother Thomas Cleary, the high school’s president.
Cleary said he remembers Thomas Miloscia always having a smile on his face and never feeling sorry for himself. He said the school was happy to work with the foundation and family to create the scholarship fund.
“The best thing about it is not only assisting other families to send their sons here, but it keeps Thomas’ name very current and very much alive in this school,” he said.
Michelle Milano said the foundation didn’t have a clearly defined mission at first, but recently the board members have narrowed their goal to helping cancer patients between the ages of 15 to 39. There is no other organization on Long Island that helps this age group specifically, according to Milano. People in the age group have lower survival rates than pediatric and older patients and are referred to as AYA, which means adolescent and young adults, according to Dr. Laura Hogan of Stony Brook Medicine.
“AYA cancer patients are often late to care, late to diagnosis, less likely to enroll in clinical trials and have delayed start of cancer therapy,” Hogan said, which leads to the lower survival rates.
Hogan said acts of kindness could be a big boost to AYA patients. The doctor said many services are geared toward younger children or older adults, but not AYA patients who may be in college or living with parents or have young children, and have different needs than younger or older patients.
“At Stony Brook, we are building our dedicated AYA services to help meet their needs better and our collaboration with the Thomas Matthew Miloscia Foundation is helping us meet these needs,” she said.
In addition to the Chaminade scholarship fund, the foundation offers six programs. The group assembles welcome bags that they have given to Stony Brook Medicine and NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola. The reusable bags are filled with items like travel pillow blanket combos, socks, notebooks, pens, essential oils, bottled water and inspirational messages. Milano said the bags are imprinted with the logo Bright Spot, which was inspired by a message Miloscia recorded about Patient AirLift Services, of Farmingdale, which provides free air transportation for individuals requiring medical treatment, where he called the organization a “bright spot.”
“We try to carry on that bright spot,” Milano said.
The organization also offers grants to cancer patients up to $1,000 to offset costs such as travel, gas, deductibles and copays. It sponsors summer camp attendance every year for 10 children at Camp Kesem at Stony Brook University for patients or their family members; hands out Thanksgiving cards; and during the holiday season runs an adopt-a-family drive where foundation members will buy items on a family’s holiday list for a total of $1,000 per family. In the past, its gift-in-kind program has allowed the board members to present Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park with Xbox gaming consoles and they hope to do something similar for Stony Brook Medicine in the near future.
When it comes to the foundation’s work, Milano thinks Miloscia would be thrilled.
“This is exactly the kind of thing he would be doing,” she said.
His mother agrees. “He was like the closest thing to Jesus — he really was — he was like a saint,” she said. “So, he would love this, helping others, doing nice things, and helping people during a hard time — just lift up their spirits a little bit.”
For more information about the Thomas Matthew Miloscia Foundation, visit www.thomasmiloscia.com. The organization has also set up a link for anyone interested in donating on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 27.