Friends of Karen, a North Salem-based nonprofit that helps over 1,200 sick children and their families annually, is kicking off its 45th anniversary celebration on Thursday, July 13 at Captain Lawrence Barrel house in Mount Kisco. Their “Cheers From The Heart” celebration will be held from 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., and everyone’s invited (you can purchase tickets or a sponsorship here). 

But who is Karen and why are we celebrating her friends? We’re glad you asked.

How it all began

In 1978, Sheila Peterson watched her friends help their daughter Karen Macinnes struggle with a rare and fatal genetic disorder, and she knew she needed to do something. So Peterson rallied the local community’s support and raised the funds necessary to bring Karen home so she could spend her remaining time surrounded by loved ones. 

Following her success, the Macinnes family requested that Peterson continue her efforts and help more children and families find support in their time of need. Now, the compassionate endeavor of one woman has become a non-profit that has changed the lives of thousands. 

Providing every kind of support

Friends of Karen defines their mission as providing “emotional, financial and advocacy support for children with a life-threatening illness and their families in order to help keep them stable, functioning, and able to cope.”

“We don’t have a set range or limit for support,” explains Gwen Salmo, special events coordinator. “Each family’s needs are very different. Once the family applies for support, our social workers sit down with the family to figure out their exact needs; i.e. help with rent, transportation, food, sibling support, medical and prescription co-pays.”

“We’ve never turned a family away,” she continues. “These families that need us, really need us and we’re there to help. We’re there when the child’s diagnosed through the whole illness and then…even after the child gets better or, God forbid, the child passes away, we’re there by the parent’s side.”

This organization has made its mark on this region. They say they are the only organization that “provides comprehensive support from diagnosis through treatment, to families in the New York Tri-State region caring for a child battling cancer or another life-threatening illness.”

Celebrating success

Now, back to the party. On Thursday evening, in addition to the variety of food, drinks and entertainment, there will also be games and speakers. 

“We’re having trivia and raffles, an ice cream truck and one of our children speaking at the event,” Salmo explains. “We always have a child or a parent speak at an event, and this kid happens to be 18 years old and he’s doing great! He’s a recent high school graduate and the first in his family to go to college. He’s going to Binghamton University in the fall.” 

There are only a few days left to purchase tickets as RSVPs need to be in by Monday, July 10. 

If you can’t make it out on Thursday evening, Friends of Karen says there are many other ways to support the organization – they truly operate on the generosity of others.  

“You could volunteer,” Salmo suggests. “For example, we’re having volunteers come in to pack backpacks and help pack the holiday adopt-a-family gifts. You could host a fundraiser yourself. We have people who have hosted a car wash, there was somebody who did a bingo night for us, you could do a bake sale, you could do tag sales at your home or you could have a trivia night.”

“September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and also Sickle Cell Awareness Month, so you could also do a fundraiser around that,” she continues.

Plus, due to inflation, families struggling with money have found it even more difficult to purchase food. 

“We always, always, always need supermarket gift cards,” Salmo explains. “So if you know anybody that would donate a $50 gift card to ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Wegmans or Acme, we always need people to help with that. We also need birthday gifts all the time.” 

And for those who love a good fundraiser, Friends of Karen has got you covered with several other events this fall. Their annual bike tour will be on September 30 and October 1, the Adina’s Angels 5K walk is on October 8 and their Italian dinner party  at Mama Rosa’s Ristorante in Somers is on October 24.  And, for an even bigger, fancier celebratory affair, their 45th annual gala will be held in New York City on November 3.

Emily Meehan
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Emily Meehan is a college student who is passionate about music, art and writing.