Friends of Kids

Judy Ciapciak, Meredith Chaney, Lisa Huber, Natasha Westrich-Wood

Judy Ciapciak, executive director of Friends of Kids with Cancer, recalls a teenage boy who recently spoke about the organization at an event by saying, It takes the lows and balances them out with highs. His words were something Ciapciak considers an achievement for the nonprofit, whose goal is to enrich the lives of kids going through cancer treatment. “It’s just keeping them positive—it’s not a cure, but it’s the best thing they can get at this time in their lives,” she says.

Friends of Kids with Cancer began 21 years ago as a toy closet in area hospitals that would provide a distraction for kids going through treatment, Ciapciak notes. But today it is so much more, offering more than 20 educational, recreational and emotional programs to help kids in treatment, as well as their families.

One of those programs is the art therapy program, directed by art therapist Natasha Westrich-Wood. “During art therapy, the kids and teens are able to create artwork, talk about how they are feeling and what it is like to deal with cancer,” Westrich-Wood says. “It is a helpful process encouraging kids to form their feelings into words by making art.” The kids in the program report a better sense of support, increased self-esteem, the ability to think more clearly, reduced anxiety and more, she adds.

“She works with the kids to draw out their feelings,” Ciapciak says of Westrich-Wood’s program. “Working with different materials, she helps them to be creative and bring their emotions to the canvas as an outlet to all of the pain and confusion they experience. A lot of times, the child’s friends don’t understand; and the child doesn’t want to talk to their parents because they’re so worried anyway. Natasha has a way of drawing out their feelings on the canvas.”

The art therapy program will be in the spotlight at the nonprofit’s fourth annual Art from the Heart event on Sept. 26, sponsored by and hosted at Mungenast Lexus of St. Louis. For the event, work by the kids in Friends of Kids’ art therapy program is framed pro bono by Arch Framing and Design, and hung throughout the showroom. There, the artwork is auctioned off with all the proceeds supporting Friends of Kids with Cancer. “More than 60 pieces will be available at the event, and auctioning these heartwarming works of art to support such a great organization is an absolute honor,” says Lisa Huber of Mungenast Lexus.

Ciapciak considers the event a highlight of the year for the nonprofit because of the way it brings families together. “The families get to come free of charge, and the best part of the whole program is the expressions on these kids’ faces when they see people bidding on their artwork,” Ciapciak says. “They look at the bid sheets and it’s $60 or $70, and it makes them feel so proud and so good. It’s all about building their self-esteem.”

And building self-esteem is one of the nonprofit’s primary goals. “They are robbed of their childhood no matter how long they’re in treatment—no matter how sick they are, they lose a part of their childhood that they will never gain back,” Ciapciak says. “We try to keep their lives as normal as possible. If they’re feeling good about themselves, then everything is looking up.”


On the Cover:

Friends of Kids with Cancer hosts its fourth annual Art from the Heart event on Sept. 26 at Mungenast Lexus of St. Louis. Pictured on the cover: Jenny, age 10, a participant in Friends of Kids with Cancer’s art therapy program. For more information, call 275-7440 or visit

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