“What really inspired me particularly about this committee is helping children and families. If there are children requiring assistance, we should all come together and collaborate and figure out a way to help them.”
– Antonio Biondi, Event Chair
The Kids for Kids Foundation community is made up of friends, family, and colleagues who organize and support family-oriented fundraising events.
Meet some of our inspiring members.
Spotlight on Sal Amato
Not long after learning about Kids for Kids, Sal knew he wanted to be a part of the committee right away.
During his very first meeting “I met everyone involved and they were all great people. I just felt comfortable from the beginning.”
Part of what made it so comfortable was that it felt like a family for him. “We are all pretty much in the same industry and we’ve networked with each other. We became very close.”
And the family connection extends to his own kids, Isabella and Salvatore, who are members of the Junior Committee. “They are very excited to be involved and now their friends want to be involved.”
Last year they hosted a bake sale at their church, which allowed the whole neighborhood to get involved as well. “They are thankful that they are able to help these kids and it makes them appreciate what they have.”
Sal is also grateful for what he has in his life, and is reminded of that during visits to St. Jude.
“Going to the hospital every year puts my life into perspective. You think you have stresses in life with your business or high level job, but you don’t know stress until you see what some of these families are going through.”
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Antonio is part of a number of charitable communities, but there is one thing that sets Kids for Kids apart from the others. “The selflessness I see in this [committee] far exceeds others. It’s not even close.”
That was also a driving force for him to join the committee. “A lot of my friends are founding members and just the sheer selflessness of the group and the objective of helping families in need – that in and of itself inspired me to participate and become a member.”
Family Fun Day is one of his favorite events because “we bring our friends and our family together and celebrate not just that day but the year’s [fundraising] efforts. Year over year over year we always push ourselves to exceed the preceding year’s goal. And we’ve been able to do that through our friends and a grassroots effort.”
Antonio sees his fellow committee members not just as friends but an extension of his family. And that also goes for his daughters, Juliana and Sofia, who are founding members of the junior committee.
“They’re just good kids. And it’s very gratifying and satisfying to see that the youth – generations apart from us – understand the importance of helping others in need. And that, to me, is very impressive.”
When asked for three adjectives to describe his experience with Kids for Kids, Antonio shared “Humbling. Pride. Happiness.”
Having attended numerous industry-based charity events throughout his career, Robert was inspired to host one himself, but with a twist – he would make it family-friendly.
He recalls, “I noticed that a lot of them [events] were mostly attended by business associates. And at one point it just clicked with me that it would be really great if there were some charity events in which we actually go to to meet each others family members.”
That very first Family Fun Day was hosted at the Bronx Zoo and raised $30,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And that was the birth of the Kids for Kids Foundation.
When asked about the growth of the organization, he says “I never would have dreamed I’d be talking to you about what this has become and the amount of people that are involved and the events that we have. I never thought it would be more than a day at the Bronx Zoo ten years ago.”
Robert is proud of all the events the group organizes on a yearly basis, including two annual golf outings, the spring and fall clay shooting expeditions, and racing events. And his goal for the committee is that more members become inspired to create their own events, such as the recent Inaugural Winter Ball.
One of his oldest friends, Craig Shapiro, joined early on out of great admiration for Robert. “He has a great head on his shoulders. He wants nothing but the best to try and help people and I wanted to follow his coat tails.”
But his proudest achievement was the formation of the Junior Committee in 2012.
“We are inspiring young kids to do good, to keep them active in a positive way, and to let them be smart and creative and entrepreneurial to host their own events.” He continues, “The Junior Committee is going to be our legacy.”
Just about anyone you talk to who is a part of Kids for Kids will tell you that it’s like a family.And John Esslinger is no different. “We treat everybody like we’re brothers and sisters – we are one big happy family.”
But John is also excited for his actual family to be a part of the community. His sister, Marilouise, recently joined the Committee. And he can’t wait until his young niece/Goddaughter can be a part of the Junior Committee, especially as he loves seeing her have so much fun at his favorite event – Family Fun Day.
He’s especially looking forward to having his son (due Winter 2019) join the Kids for Kids family.
John’s commitment has only grown stronger after visiting both St. Jude and St. Mary’s. “It’s a great feeling to actually see what we do to help these children out. And everybody in the organization puts their heart and soul into making sure these children and their families are happy.”
In addition to volunteering at Family Fun Day and securing sponsors, John is also working on organizing a cigar night. And after attending the Inaugural Cornhole Tournament in January 2018, he was inspired to organize the next one.
The event “brings everybody in the industry together outside of work to have a nice time together. And we get to teach more people what we do as an organization.”
Brian had been a supporter of Kids for Kids events since the very first Family Fun Day. And what inspired him to make a bigger commitment to join the Committee was a trip to Memphis to visit St. Jude.
“I was going through a time in my life where I really needed to reach out and see what real problems were,” he recalls. “I went to the hospital and realized I didn’t have any problems in the world. I had my kids, my health – my life was fine – and I realized it was time to give back and share my successes to help other people.”
Brian’s company, Northeastern Bus Rebuilders (NEBR), sponsors events like Family Fun Day and his staff also volunteer at many of them as well.
And inspired by his passion for racing, he decided to organize his own event – “A Day of Racing at Monticello Motor Club”. Held in 2017, the event raised $50,000.
Donors had the opportunity to drive around the track in BMW racecars as well as use go-carts and the off-road Polaris. In addition, professional racecar drivers took everyone for a ride in the Ferrari Challenge Cars. “It gave them a little bit of a taste of what it’s like to be in a racecar at very high speeds.”
For Brian, organizing the events is as much fun as attending them.
“It’s one thing to be there to raise money for the organization but we also have a very fun time doing it. And we look forward to our meetings and the planning of events. It’s good that we have such a great camaraderie together.”
There is just a handful of people who have been with Kids for Kids since the very beginning, and Nick Raineri is one of the select few.
As a founding member, Nick loves that what sets Kids for Kids’ events apart from others is that they are always fun and always a ton of laughs.
In reference to the recent event at Red Hook Winery, Nick says “Who wouldn’t pay to come and have dinner in a beautiful venue with friends – joking, laughing, cooking for each other – what’s better than that?”
That evening alone raised $39,000 for St. Mary’s Hospital for Children.
Nick has also been the brains behind some of Kids for Kids most thrilling and unique events, such as the biannual Sporting Clays outing.
“I’m a sportsman and am always looking to be outdoors and have fun in nature. The Sporting Clays event is a great day out with friends and business associates.”
In its first year (2013) the event raised $30,000. The events are now raising as much as $135,000 per outing.
Nick has also organized the Bertil Roos racing events. “The car racing is full of adrenaline and something most people wouldn’t get the chance to do.”
Even though he loves these events, the part of Kids for Kids that Nick is most proud of is the Junior Committee.
“The Kids for Kids Junior Committee is one of the best things about the organization. What better way to teach our children but by example of how they should help other people.”
Nick’s three kids – Isabella, Alexandria, and Nico – are part of the committee.
“I hope my kids see how important it is to help other people and see how fortunate we are to be able to help other people.”
Nick also understands the importance of family and how that carries over to the organization. “There’s nothing more important or better in life than family. And Kids for Kids Foundation is one big family.”
Craig is one of Robert Catalano’s oldest and dearest friends. And though Robert jokes that “When we first started this charity, it was whoever was closest to me that I could use as a resource to make it work,” for Craig, it was more than just that.
“Robert asked what I thought about putting the organization together to spread awareness about families in need – and more important – children in need of our help. And I was all for it. As soon as he asked me if I wanted to be involved, I jumped on it.”
Since that very first event at the Bronx Zoo, Craig has loved seeing the addition of new events over the years, including the clay shooting outings and the inaugural cornhole tournament. “I can honestly say there isn’t an event that I don’t like attending.”
And he’s especially excited when new members come on board. “I am extremely happy when I see emails go out that other people are getting involved and organizing their own events.”
Like many of his fellow committee members, Craig’s sons are also involved with the Junior Committee.
“My two children are ecstatic over the cause and being part of the Junior Committee. Just to see them having fun doing the right thing, constantly thinking of helping other children – there’s no better feeling in the world for a father.”
They are currently in the middle of organizing a basketball tournament at a local church.
“I’m extremely blessed that the Kids for Kids Junior Committee exists because I don’t know when they would actually be involved in raising money for children.”
When Sonya Verny first moved to NYC in 2010, she was looking for a way to get involved in the community. But when she joined the Kids for Kids Committee, she gained much more than a community – she gained a family.
“I don’t have any siblings but I feel like I’ve inherited a lot of brothers and sisters. And we have a lot of fun together,” she says. “It’s created a group of people I can count on and we all have a common interest – saving children.”
Sonya was especially inspired to join the Committee because of their commitment to St. Jude, and her commitment only grew stronger after visiting the patients and families in Memphis.
“I thought it was going to be so scary and so sad and it was the exact opposite,” Sonya recalls. “The walls were bright colors and kids weren’t transported in wheelchairs but in wagons.”
After meeting a young patient and learning that she was going home that day, Sonya was surprised by the fact that she wanted to stay. That’s when she realized that St. Jude is not just a hospital to the kids they treat.
That visit now inspires her to work even harder to raise funds.
“When you can see it, feel it, and touch it, you can speak from the heart about it. It’s not just a cause on your resume that you are involved with. It is something you are truly passionate about.”
Since 2013, Sonya has been hosting an annual happy hour event for the real estate industry. In its first year, the IFMA Cares Happy Hour raised $5,000. Since then, the event has more than doubled the amount raised year after year. In 2017 alone, $25,000 was raised and the event has become one that everyone in the industry talks about.
Like other members, Sonya is excited that Kids for Kids is expanding into the local area – contributing to St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and Maimonides Children’s Hospital.
“I think it’s phenomenal that we are now big enough that we can give a million plus dollars to St. Jude each year and still raise more money to give locally. The fact that we are able to participate with so many other hospitals is fantastic.”
Sonya loves the fact that as a group Kids for Kids is changing lives, including her own. “It’s changed my life for the better and I feel very blessed to be part of the organization.”