The Broadway Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square was packed with over 650 people celebrating our 31st Annual Gala – our first large event under our new name and logo: enCourage Kids Foundation. Our dedicated donors came with the same compassion as always, helping to raise nearly $1.3 million for our programs.
The evening was filled with laughter, thanks to our host Steve Schirripa. And it was appropriate, as we also highlighted our dedicated clowns – Looney Lenny, Looney Louie, and Hug-a-Me – who have been delivering laughter to the bedsides of hospitalized children for over 20 years. Guests generously donated nearly $38,000 to help support their visits, which give each hospitalized child a reason to smile during a time of hardship.
According to Looney Louie “That’s what I love to see, the change from a sad, scary, stressful mood to a mood of relief and happiness. That’s the real magic we’re after as we come into these hospitals to interact with the patients and their families.”
Michael May, one of our honorees, shared his experience meeting Looney Louie at his visit to the Komansky Center for Children’s Health. “Children and parents walked, were wheeled, and were carried into the performance and within minutes there was not a frown in the room.”
Our other honoree, Sush Torgalkar, discussed his hospital visit experience, where he was able to co-host KidZone TV, a program we fund at Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mt. Sinai. This in-house pediatric broadcast studio allows for patients to tune in 24 hours a day, with three live shows each day. Sush was able to assist with their Disney Trivia call-in show. “I saw first hand how this simple program could bring much needed entertainment and distraction to children whose medical treatments prohibit them from being able to just ‘go out and play’.”
Lisa Perez, an enCourage Kids mother, gave a different perspective of our programs. Lisa shared her family’s experience as her son Nicolas battled medulloblastoma, the most common brain tumor in children – a speech that garnered a standing ovation and a room filled with both applause and tears. Sadly, Nicolas lost his battle to brain cancer in 2014, but the Perez’s truly demonstrate that the enCourage Kids family is forever. “They gave us the gift of precious moments and memories and most importantly a community of families that truly understood what we were going through.”
Both she and her other son, Xavier, now volunteer regularly at our Escapes events. “We have found it to be a special way to bond and even heal, but especially to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We see these families and we know that we are them and they are us and the smiles these programs bring them brighten our lives just as much as it does theirs.”
Throughout the years, Nicolas and the entire Perez family had the opportunity to attend many events, including his beloved NY Knicks, with the support of our community partner, Garden of Dreams Foundation. Another one of our enCourage Kids, Gabirelle Piela, also benefitted from Garden of Dreams, having received a $10,000 renewable scholarship which allowed her to attend her dream college, Fordham University. She was on hand to present John Starks and Garden of Dreams with our inaugural Community Partner Award for our decade long relationship.
Our 31st Annual Gala was an amazing event. Our new logo shining over the stage and the incredible honorees and speakers was a special sight to see. And the dedicated support from our donors and sponsor American Airlines has once again helped us to continue providing our unique program to our children, families, and hospital partners. Thank you to all the guests for being a part of our organization and thank you to our families who inspire us every day.
View more photos from the evening: Portrait Gallery and Event Gallery