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An Introduction to Friends of Karen

An Introduction to Friends of Karen
An Introduction to Friends of Karen

Our Mission:  To provide emotional, financial and advocacy support for children with a life-threatening illness and their families, in order to help keep them strong, functioning and able to cope.

Friends of Karen is a registered 501(c)(3) charity and the only organization in the New York metropolitan area to provide a comprehensive range of services -- at no cost -- to families caring for a child with a life-threatening illness.

Driven by compassion for families facing the most difficult experience imaginable, our expert social workers, committed staff and dedicated volunteers provide vital, practical and comprehensive services tailored to the specific needs of each family -- and each family member -- to help free them of everyday concerns so they have more time to love.

Who We Are: Friends of Karen was founded in 1978 by Sheila Petersen.  A friend’s daughter, Karen, was terminally ill, and she wanted to come home from the hospital to live her final days surrounded by her family.  Karen’s family’s insurance did not cover home care and her family could not afford the cost themselves. Sheila galvanized the community to help raise funds to enable Karen to remain at home.  

When Karen died, Sheila established Friends of Karen as a resource for other families caring for a child battling a life-threatening illness. Since then, Friends of Karen has supported more than 5,700 children and their families. When siblings are counted, Friends of Karen has touched the lives of more than 14,000 children in the New York Tri-State area.

“When parents of a terminally or catastrophically ill child receive financial and emotional
help, they have more time to love.”  
               Sheila Petersen, Founder, Friends of Karen

Who We Serve:  Friends of Karen serves families with children (birth to age 21) who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and live in any of 22 counties in the New York metropolitan area.   In 2015, Friends of Karen helped 1,679 children (669 ill children and 1,010 siblings). 

Friends of Karen works with 22 major hospitals in the Tri-State area.  Most of the children and families are referred to us by their social worker at the hospital where they are being treated.  Friends of Karen serves children and their families regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin, or cultural heritage.

What We Do:  Friends of Karen’s core Family Support Program offers individualized case management provided by a team of experienced, professional social workers. 
Our support includes:

  • Emotional support, including supportive guidance, bereavement support and a Sibling Support Program with specialists who work one-on-one and in small groups with sisters and brothers of the children who are ill, allowing them to express their feelings and thoughts, and to develop the means to cope with what is happening in their family.
  • Financial assistance through direct payment of illness-related expenses not covered by insurance (i.e., doctor and nursing fees, prescriptions and lab bills) and basic living expenses (i.e., rent, mortgage and utility bills) that are no longer affordable when parents leave their job to care for their child. We also help cover the cost of childcare for siblings, and hospital travel and meals.
  • Advocacy action to ensure families have access to all available benefits from government and other agencies; support from other organizations; pro bono legal counsel; and help with special educational needs.

“When we were going through our daughter’s illness, we would not have made it through without Friends of Karen.  We will NEVER forget all that you did financially and emotionally.”   Myra and Jesse Poe

Among our other important programs:

  • Holiday Adopt-A-Family:  In 2014, a record 993 children received holiday gifts from their individual wish lists, giving them something to smile about on Hanukkah and Christmas.

  • Back-to-School:  In 2014, 805 children received a new backpack filled with supplies from their own school's list and a gift card to get something new to wear, energizing them about starting a new school year. .

  • Annual Ceremony for bereaved families, attended by over 300 family and friends in 2014.

  • Supermarket gift cards:  No family should have to choose between paying for medicines or treatment for a child and feeding their family.  In 2014, Friends of Karen distributed over $30,000 in supermarket gift cards.

  • Birthday Gifts for sick children and their siblings. In 2014, 888 children received a birthday gift with a personalized card, ensuring that they don't miss out on their special day.

“Thank you, Friends of Karen, for assisting us in every possible way, for standing on the front line for us, for bringing up our spirits during this battle. Thank you for making our otherwise obscure path a clear one full of hope, possibilities and friends who truly understand.”       Nathanael’s parents

Our Financials: Our Fiscal Year 2016 budget is $4.2 million.  83 of every $1.00 raised goes directly to supporting families.

Charity Navigator, an independent organization that evaluates the financial health, efficiency and responsibility of more than 8,000 U.S. charities, consistently gives Friends of Karen a 4-star rating – their highest award -- a designation indicating exceptional financial trustworthiness.

Our Locations: Friends of Karen is headquartered in North Salem, NY, with two regional offices – in New York City (Manhattan) and on Long Island (Port Jefferson).

Questions?  Click here to contact us or call (914) 617-4042
In Queens and Long Island, you may call (631) 473-1768 x304.



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