Since its founding 21 years ago, Friends of Kids with Cancer has evolved in many ways. But one thing stays the same: its dedication to making kids smile.
Just like the nonprofit itself, the annual Fashion Show & Boutique at The Ritz-Carlton has grown through the years. And as one of the largest Friends of Kids with Cancer fundraisers, it creates memories that last a lifetime for the kids who participate and their families, says executive director Judy Ciapciak. “There was a young man in the show last year who was terminal; and through Make-A-Wish, he was able to go to spring training,” Ciapciak recalls. “I emailed Mike Matheny, and said he could use a partner walking down the aisle, and Mike was able to come for the luncheon and walk with him.”
The event is special for all of the kids who participate, not just those who get to walk with their hero, Ciapciak notes. “A lot of the kids come from small towns and they’ve never been to a ‘fancy’ hotel or received treatment like that. We have a hair-and-makeup lady, and she makes them feel like little princes and princesses.”
As with all of the nonprofit’s programs, the fundraiser really is an event for the whole family. “The kids tear at your heart. I love to watch the kids, and also their parents. You see the pride and the memories they have of watching their child: Sometimes they don’t know if they’re going to make it, or they were in the hospital two days before; but for that night, it’s like the Academy Awards.”
This year, the Fashion Show & Boutique takes place on Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Ritz-Carlton, where guests can enjoy either lunch or dinner, along with the fashion show and boutique shopping. The event’s theme is ‘Touch the Heart of a Child,’ and chairs Kelly Buchanan, Lisa Nixon and Cindy Timpone, along with several committees, have been working to make it the best event yet. Fashions for the show are provided by Dillards and Mr. Guy. “We have about 25 vendors with jewelry, clothing, monogrammed items, glassware and more,” Ciapciak says. “It’s a nice way to start the holiday shopping season a little early.”
Funds raised at the event support the many educational, recreational and emotional support programs put on by Friends of Kids with Cancer. “Dr. Bergamini, who is one of the founders, started with the idea of treating the whole child, not just the illness—not just the cancer,” Ciapciak notes. The nonprofit provides everything from scholarships to testing for learning disabilities and art therapy, as well as continued support for families even if their child passes away. “Most of them still stay a part of Friends and come to the Halloween and Winter Wonderland parties with the siblings. They want to stay connected, and they don’t want the little ones to suffer any more than they already have.”
The fashion show is one of those memories that families will always have, no matter what is to come. “For some of the families, it’s the last time they got to see their kids smile and be happy—and it didn’t matter if they were bald, or if they had to be on crutches or in a wheelchair,” Ciapciak says. “There’s no holding them back.”
On the Cover: The 21st annual Friends of Kids with Cancer Fashion Show & Boutique takes place on Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Ritz-Carlton, with luncheon and dinner options. Pictured on the cover: Ann Marie Fraser with Allyson Martin of Bella Gente Salon. For tickets and information, call 275-7440 or visit friendsofkids.com.