By REBECCA SCHWAB
OBSERVER Staff Writer
After seeing his own father lose the battle with cancer, Dunkirk resident Rick Kozlowski felt a calling to make the lives of cancer patients better. He built "Gifts of Love and Hope" from the ground up, and the first year, he did all the hard work himself.
Cameryn of Carly's Club (center) with, clockwise from bottom left: Sara Maiorana, Jenny Napier, Maegan Kivler and Stephanie Calderon, all of Delta Phi Epsilon.
"I always wanted to do something to help the innocent children who have been stricken with cancer,"" Kozlowski said. "I am determined to do what I can to support children battling this terrible disease."
His organization was officially born in 2010, after lots of thinking and planning on Kozlowski's part. He contacted Robin Hace of Carly's Club, at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, to talk about an idea he had to get Christmas presents for the childhood cancer patients there. Carly's Club exists to offer support programs for children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer and their families, as well as to offer hope for a cure through research seeking cures at Roswell Park. What better way to bring hope and cheer to these kids, thought Kozlowski, than making sure they had a wonderful Christmas.
Hace loved Kozlowski's idea, and she helped his charity get officially sanctioned by Roswell.
"I was sincerely moved and truly impressed when Rick called me to propose his idea for Gifts of Love and Hope," Hace recalled, "mainly because it was February! He was already thinking of the children of Carly's Club at Roswell Park 10 months ahead of the holidays, which seems to be the 'typical time' for the spirit of giving. He struck me as being sincere, genuine, and determined to make this program a success so that he could help deliver smiles to hundreds of children's faces during the holidays."
With Hace's encouragement, Kozlowski was off and running. He contacted area businesses, and through their generosity, raffles, and other community members' donations, he was able to raise $2,000 to buy presents for the children of Carly's Club.
"The presents are selected from a specific list that the children requested," Kozlowski explained. "(That first year) they were given out to the children at a party put on in Buffalo by Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres."
The happiness Gifts of Love and Hope brings to the children of Carly's Club is heartwarming.
"The flash of pure joy that crosses each of (the children's) faces is irreplaceable," Hace said. "All of the challenges of a cancer journey seem to melt away for that moment and they are wrapped up in the special gift they've just received. In that moment they are just like every other kid healthy or otherwise."
In 2011, Kozlowski was determined to do even better. He decided he could really use the help of the local college community, enriching students' lives with the experience of giving, raising more money for Carly's Club, and reaching out to a larger network of potential donors in a win-win-win situation. He contacted Vice President of Programming Stephanie Calderon of Delta Phi Epsilon from SUNY Fredonia.
"I presented her with my ideas about the charity," Kozlowski recalled. "After (the sorority's) meeting, (Calderon) said the girls would be very happy to help with the charity."
As the vice president of programming, Calderon knew how much the sorority already had on its plate in terms of community involvement. However, the girls couldn't pass up a chance to help make holidays better for the children at Roswell.
"We all agreed it was a great organization to be involved with and wanted to do whatever we could to help," Calderon said.
With the help of these students, in 2011 Gifts of Love and Hope raised an astonishing $7,222 for Carly's Club.
"Most of these funds were used to purchase about 280 presents for the children," Kozlowski said, "and some funds were given directly to Carly's Club. One hundred percent of the funds raised are used for the children of Carly's Club."
Kozlowski and four sorority members attended the 2011 Carly's Club Christmas party and helped with the festivities.
"It was a very touching experience meeting and spending time with the children," Kozlowski said.
The mission of Gifts of Love and Hope is to provide a holiday gift to each Carly's Club member (pediatric patient) with any surplus proceeds benefiting pediatric support programs and research at Roswell Park. There are several ways for individual community members, area businesses, and other well-meaning organizations to get involved and help make this Christmas wonderful for the children of Carly's Club. People can become event sponsors, place donation containers at their places of businesses or club gatherings, donate a gift certificate or basket raffle item, purchase tickets for the raffles, and attend fundraising events.
Hace explained what it means for the young Roswell patients to have the support of the area's residents:
"Carly's Club at Roswell Park wouldn't be able to do what we do every day without the generosity of the WNY community," Hace said. "We are truly appreciative and grateful for community individuals, like Rick, who help us continue our mission to support pediatric and teen cancer patients and their families each day. Additionally, for a patient and his or her family, knowing that there is a caring community standing behind them and supporting them, even if they do not know each other, makes a world of difference."
The main fundraising event for Gifts of Love and Hope is happening Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club on Mullet Street in Dunkirk from noon to midnight. Kozlowski and the ladies of Delta Phi Epsilon will be on site with raffles, basket raffles, silent auctions and 50/50s. A live broadcast of the event by Kiss 98.5 will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. There will be live music from Lana and Dustin of Black Widow at noon, Ultraviolet at 2 p.m., Left of Center at 5:30 p.m., Busted Stuff at 7:45 p.m., and Fallen Union at 10 p.m. Ashley and Melissa from the Buffalo Jills will be there from 2 to 10 p.m., and guests can enjoy pizza and wings from Mary's Deli.
Kozlowski and the members of Delta Phi Epsilon want to thank everyone who came to their Halloween party fundraiser at Doon's in Fredonia. About 400 people attended, raising a total of $1,580 for Gifts of Love and Hope.
"We have been really pleased with the turnouts at our events, and it makes (all the hard work) worth it in the end," Calderon said.
To make a donation, participate in fundraisers, or for more information about Gifts of Love and Hope, contact Kozlowski directly at 401-1354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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