Local teens recently joined together for the heartwarming “Teen Project,” an annual donation drive for special gift cards that are given out to teen patients at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Hagedorn Pediatric Inpatient Unit and its Cancer Center for Kids. The Teen Project, first begun in 2014, set a staggering record of over $15,000 in gift card donations in the most recent drive, nearly double the amount raised the prior year.
Teen Project was founded by teens Steven and Matthew Spirakis, who wanted to empower local teens to give back. “We learned that the hospital often receives toy donations for young patients, but seldom receives appropriate gifts for teen patients,” said Steven Spirakis. “Filling this need was a simple undertaking on our part compared to the afflictions with which teen patients must cope.”
Added Matthew Spirakis, “What excites me the most is seeing the campaign grow each year across neighboring communities.”
To expand Teen Project, the brothers partnered with T.J. and Luke Schmitt of Garden City-based Charlie’s Champions Foundation; Delaney Zander of Garden City; and Ashley Kalb and Morgan Mandel of Dix Hills. Collectively, they helped inspire community involvement, with participation by the Miracle Club at Garden City High School, the National Junior Honor Society students at Garden City Middle School, 7th and 8th grade religious education students at St. Joseph’s Church and St. Anne’s Church, and students from South Huntington and Half Hollow Hills school districts.
The hospital, in turn, received boxes filled to the brim with gift cards, which the Child Life Department at NYU Winthrop distributes to teen patients throughout the year including on birthdays and at holiday time. A holiday “gift card tree” was also donated, from which teens are able to make a personal gift card selection.
“The assortment is incredible, with a gift card to appeal to every teen we treat,” said Ashley Carlo, manager of NYU Winthrop’s Cancer Center for Kids. The center provides care to pediatric patients battling cancer and complex blood disorders.
Added Jennifer Schmitt, event coordinator for the Charlie’s Champions Foundation, “Teen Project was another way for Charlie’s Champions to directly support patients. We want to make teen patients forget about how they feel from treatments and lift their spirits.” The foundation was established by the Schmitt family in honor of Charlie Schmitt, a cancer survivor who was treated at the Cancer Center for Kids.
“This campaign is very important to me because it allows me to help people that are my age, from my community, who are going through treatments,” said Delaney Zander, who attends Garden City Middle School and St. Anne’s Religious Education Program.
Explained T.J. Schmitt, vice president of Garden City High School’s Miracle Club, “Students felt compassionate about this project because they could not imagine not being home to celebrate holidays with their families. We bring the celebration to the hospital.”
Dix Hills’ teens Morgan Mandel and Ashley Kalb joined in Teen Project, inspired by their first-hand experiences of seeing family members’ lives touched by NYU Winthrop’s lifesaving care. They reached out to students in the South Huntington and Half Hollow Hills school districts and encouraged contributors to include inspirational notes with their donations. “Watching this project grow has given us a tremendous sense of personal fulfillment,” said Morgan. Added Ashley, “We share a great appreciation for what we have—and what we can give to others.”
Concluded Beth Spirakis, mother of the Teen Project founders, “It is humbling to learn about the emotional journeys families face, and the creation of this gift-giving program presented a wonderful opportunity to show teen patients some compassion.”
As the largest outpatient facility for children with cancer and blood disorders in Nassau County, NYU Winthrop’s Cancer Center for Kids is at the forefront of treatment and research, delivering patient and family-centered care in a comfortable, child-friendly outpatient facility. The Child Life Program is dedicated to helping children understand and cope with the hospital experience. Certified child life specialists utilize therapeutic play, arts and crafts, entertainment, and other diversions to ensure that the hospital experience is as stress-free as possible for children and their families. For more information about the Child Life Program at NYU Winthrop, or call 1-866-WINTHROP.