The Story Begins When An Idea is Planted
Like many things that are good – and good for you – Kids for Kids Foundation began organically.
It all started when a group of friends and families – most who knew each other from childhood – decided to host a networking event at the Bronx Zoo.
Spearheaded by Robert Catalano, the idea came from his many years in the real estate industry attending similar events.
“As my career grew, I became friendly with a lot of people and most of the time I spent with them, they would speak about their children and families,” recalls Robert. “At some point, it just clicked with me that it would be really great if there were some events in which we actually got to meet each others families.”
Another significant difference with this event was that it would also raise money for charity.
“I’ve always supported St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and I wanted to do something to give back. So I said to myself, I could probably mix the two.”
As plans evolved, Robert brought others into the fold to help with planning, including event founder, Craig Shapiro.
“Robert asked what I thought about putting the event together to help 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,” shared Craig.
And he wasn’t the only one.
According to Craig, “Everyone was game for it and ready to step up to the plate. That was special. Everyone was immediately moving the right foot forward with ideas on how they can help.”
That initial event raised $30,000.
The Idea Takes Root
St. Jude was so impressed with the energy and passion that the founders demonstrated for the event and their cause that they extended an invitation for them to visit the hospital.
After touring the facility, Robert remembers that “it really opened our eyes to what St. Jude is about and how much cancer affects families, throwing them upside down. It is more than just a sick child – this effects the whole family unit.’”
Everyone was touched by the visit and soon plans were being devised to make the family event bigger and better.
The Idea Begins to Sprout
With the idea of expanding the family event, more friends were invited to join the committee, including Antonio Biondi.
He says “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.”
The Family Fun Day is now the anchor event of the organization. Hosted yearly at Aviator Sports in Brooklyn, it’s the culmination of a year-long fundraising effort by the entire committee and celebrates family.
Many would agree with Robert when he says, “it’s a day of enjoying your healthy, happy family and to realize that we have a much bigger advantage as opposed to those not as fortunate as us.”
In 2017, more than 1,000 people attended the event, helping to raise over $1.3 million for St. Jude. And since its inception in 2008, Kids for Kids has raised over $10 million to help children battling illness and their families.
The Idea Continues to Grow
Family Fun Day is no longer the only fundraising event hosted by the Kids for Kids Foundation. Committee members and friends can also participate in yearly golf outings, clay shooting expeditions, and even racecar driving.
According to Robert, “the golf outing started out as a thank you to all the founding members for trusting me in hosting the first family fun day event.”
Soon buzz around that event began to grow. “From there people on the committee started coming up with ideas for their own events. It just snowballed,” Robert said with a smile. “Slowly but surely when you start touching people enough, it grows on its own.”
A favorite among many members is the clay shooting event. Initiated by committee member Nick Raineri, who actively participates in the sport, it occurs in the spring and fall.
One of the events’ biggest fans is Craig. “The reason we do it twice a year is because it was such a hit and everyone wanted to do more. You can do it rain or shine. No matter what the weather is, people are having a ball.”
“Though,” he adds, “I can honestly say there isn’t an event that I don’t like attending.”
The Idea Branches Out
One area of growth all members agree on is inspiring future generations to become involved.
“The Junior Committee is probably one of the things I’m most proud of with this organization,” shares Robert. “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.”
The committee began in 2012 and is led by founding member, Philip Bicocchi, who serves as President. Philip was inspired by the commitment his father, Bob, and the other members of the committee had to the cause.
“They are role models. With everything that they do, they have time to go back and give to their communities.”
Junior Committee members host a variety of events throughout the year, both collectively and individually.
Sisters Juliana and Sofia Biondi are founding members and have hosted math-a-thons at their school.
“We decided to do a math-a-thon because it would encourage the teachers to encourage the students to get involved since it’s educational,” shared Sofia.
Their last math-a-thon raised over $6,000.
“I’m very proud that they come up with ideas on their own. They communicate with one another,” beams dad Antonio. “And it’s gratifying and satisfying to see that the youth – generations apart from us – understand the importance of helping others in need. That to me is very impressive.”
Other events hosted by members have included dance-a-thons, car washes, holiday gift wrapping, roller skating nights, bake sales, and dining out nights.
Even with members living all across the tri-state area – including Long Island, Brooklyn, and South Jersey – just about all of the members agree that the events they do collectively as a group are their most favorite, especially Family Fun Day.
“We are more a family now than anything else,” said Juliana, who serves as vice-president.
Philip agrees. “We really all have a special connection with each other about helping out children in need. And we wouldn’t be as successful as we are if we didn’t have the family connection that we truly do have.”
In 2017, the Junior Committee raised $65,000 and has goals to exceed that year after year. And, of course, they look forward to bringing new members on board.
“I think that it’s really important for kids to give back to other people in need – especially sick children – because we have so much to be grateful for,” said Sofia.
Thinking like an entrepreneur, she adds “And if they get involved, their parents may want to get more involved and it creates a bigger community of helping others. And it can make us more caring people.”
The Idea Matures
Since 2008, the Kids for Kids Foundation has raised over $10 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And as the organization entered its 10th year, they look to expand their reach by helping more families within our community.
“When we first visited St. Jude, it was pretty impressive to see what all these great minds can do to build such a great hospital and help all other aspects of the family,” recalls Robert.
He had that same sense when visiting St. Mary’s, New York’s largest and most experienced provider of long-term care to children with medically complex conditions and NYC’s only post-acute care facility for children.
“Walking through, we thought how much it was like St. Jude in helping the entire family.”
Inspired, it was decided that Kids for Kids Foundation would commit $500,000 over the next 10 years towards helping St. Mary’s with their mission of improving the health and quality of life for these children with special needs and life-limiting conditions and their families.
And on a visit to Maimonides Medical Center, the founders and benefactors were impressed with their family-centered care. “They are dealing with children from birth, and the parents have to be there for two to three weeks at a time,” says Robert. “On our tour, we saw families come back years later – you really got that sense of community.”
As Brooklyn’s only comprehensive Children’s Hospital, they are also home to the borough’s only Pediatric Trauma Center, exclusively devoted to the emergency treatment of injured children. And the state-of-the-art NICU at Maimonides is literally a chamber of life, protecting fragile infants until they are strong enough to go home to their waiting families.
“With the amazing things being done locally at Maimonides to save the lives of newborn children in New York, we decided to make a commitment to the hospital of a $1.5 million gift payable over a period of 10 years,” Robert proudly shares.
The donation will be dedicated to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Maimonides Children’s Hospital.
The Story Continues…
“I never would have dreamed what this [Kids for Kids] would become and the amount of people that are involved”, says Robert reflecting on that first event at the Bronx Zoo. “I’m surrounded by a lot of great people so I feel like anything we do would be somewhat successful, but I didn’t know it would have this much of an impact or grow this fast.”