Tags Posts tagged with "Michael Carnes"

Michael Carnes

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.”

Coram resident raises donations in Miller Place to help sick children

Santa, played by Michael Carnes, hugs a child he delivered gifts to. Photo by KT Leung

Coram resident Ashley Leung put the drive in toy drive for the second year in a row.

Last year, Leung, 24, wanted to brighten up the holidays for kids who have cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in the community, so she collaborated with some local good Samaritans to create the Kids Need More Toy Drive to go above and beyond to make a difference in children’s lives.

Once all donated gifts were collected at the drop-off station at Corrective Chiropractic in Miller Place, they were loaded up in a fully decorated “holiday cheer bus” and brought directly to the door steps of kids and families in need by Santa — played by Leung’s uncle and local chiropractor Michael Carnes — and a group of volunteer “elves.”

A family shows off the new gifts Santa, played by Michael Carnes, delivered. Photo by KT Leung

Leung said it was important to her that the delivery was personal.

“We wanted to donate to the children in the area, but also be the ones to deliver those gifts because there’s a lot of different toy drives in New York and nationwide, but no one really knows where the toys go,” she said. “We wanted to document everything … so for every toy donated, we gave a picture to the donors showing them ‘this is where your donation went.’”

For the second annual Kids Need More toy drive, Leung, Santa and his elves headed back on the bus Dec. 18 for an even bigger and better night of giving.

Leung said this year a total of five buses were launched, as opposed to two last year —   two in Suffolk County, two in Nassau and one in New Jersey. The volunteer turnout also increased. The Suffolk buses, for instance, had a total of 40 parents, friends, family and even former cancer patients on board this year, compared to eight to 10 on each bus last year.

Hundreds of gifts were donated by members of the community —  everything from Disney Infinity games for PlayStation 3 to stuffed animals and hats. A blue and black mountain bike was donated anonymously and raffled off to a 15-year-old patient.

Young girls especially loved receiving Cancer Barbie. The hairless doll comes with different wigs they’re able to swap out and serves as an inspiration for those undergoing chemotherapy. The girls see a doll that looks like them and suddenly don’t feel different, Leung said.

Many of the kids went home from the hospital just to see Santa.

Santa spreads some holiday cheer throughout Suffolk County. Photo by KT Leung

“We made a really big difference,” she said. “I think the kids we visited this year truly appreciated us visiting them. We really kept the holiday spirit going; I think the kids we saw were honestly shocked.”

Leung’s charity venture spring boarded while she was attending St. Joseph’s College. A professor told her about Camp Adventure, a week-long sleepaway camp on Shelter Island for kids diagnosed with cancer, which remains Long Island’s only camp of its kind. She was excited to get involved and wanted to immediately.

The year she joined the summer program — which now serves the East Coast and tri-state area — as a camp counselor, the organization found itself without funding.

The American Cancer Society had been providing funds for the camp since 1990, but suddenly had to stop in 2013, so a dedicated group of Camp Adventure volunteers began Kids Need More to parent the camp and ensure its longevity.

Kids Need More Camp Adventure is completely free for all kids and siblings who want to attend and involves everything from a day camp, to peer mentoring programs and visits to children’s hospitals.

It even partners with a volunteer pilot organization called Patient AirLift Services that flies patients living in rural areas who need specialized treatment to centers and hospital appointments. For the last two years, PALS has flown kids who live outside of Long Island — like those in Ohio, New Jersey and even in Albany — to the camp for free.

When Leung was working in the Corrective Chiropractic office last year, she began talking to her uncle about wanting to do something to give back to the community, and a partnership with Kids Need More to donate to children in the area seemed like a no-brainer.

According to Melissa Firnes, the founder of Kids Need More, the event has “snowballed” and served 200 kids while making lots of stops.

“These kids love it,” Firnes said. “We show up to their house for caroling and things like that. It’s simple, but very nice.”

She said what matters most is that the organization isn’t asking families to leave their homes.

Local volunteers for the Kids Need More toy drive smile in front of one of the buses as it drops off gifts to the homes of local children. Photo by KT Leung

“We’re actually coming to them, and I think that matters a lot to them,” she said. “It’s hard for [the families] to get around when there’s somebody sick in the family. Kids come out to the bus and choose a gift from the volunteer elves.”

She said Leung is willing to do anything Kids Need More needs to be successful, which makes her stand out.

“[Leung] is really great at being the cheermeister for the kids and being all enthusiastic, but is also willing to do all the legwork and logistics that’s needed in putting together the toy drive,” Firnes said. “She’s been such a big part of the organization and has now brought her whole family into it, which is really special too.”

Carnes, who brings Santa to life for the kids, said it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to touch people’s hearts and directly impact their lives.

“Children really thought I was Santa when I came up and they would give me a hug and say ‘thank you Santa,’” Carnes said. “Some of these children don’t have much and some families barely have anything, so to bring joy to people is just amazing … it’s the spirit of the holidays.”

He said he believes we can all use more happiness in the world.

Jaime Pacheco, PALS outreach coordinator and cheer bus volunteer, said the toy drive prides itself on the fact that it’s not about the gift you’re getting, but the time spent with people and the emotional support they provide.

Leung said the toy drive continues to be the best day of her life.

“Just getting off that bus — and some of these kids don’t even know we’re coming — they see Santa at their front door, and they’re just completely shocked,” she said. ”I think that’s the best thing we can give them.”