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From our Executive Director

I am often asked what distinguishes Friends of Karen from other organizations that support critically ill children. This question usually follows: Is Friends of Karen like Make-A-Wish or Ronald McDonald House? While they are both great organizations with important missions, and Friends of Karen children and families utilize them, they do not offer the breadth and depth of services we do.


Friends of Karen’s starting point is that a child’s life-threatening illness affects every aspect of a family’s life. Forty-five years ago, when our founder Sheila Petersen set out on her selfless mission, she innately understood that each family has their own needs and that whatever help is provided must be tailored to those unique needs. This principle continues to guide us.


That’s why Friends of Karen does not have a “one-size fits all” approach. We personalize our comprehensive support based on a family’s individual situation and address the impact of the illness on the whole family. This includes our special involvement with the sisters and brothers of ill children through our Sibling Support Program. Addressing their well-being deeply affects the family’s ability to cope during the health crisis and impacts their future whatever the outcome of the child’s illness. The article in this issue about mask making is an example of how our talented child life specialists and creative arts therapists support siblings.


Another unique feature of Friends of Karen is that our support continues for the trajectory of the child’s illness, which can be months or years. Further, so long as a family resides in our tristate service area, our support follows the child, no matter if they are receiving the most promising treatment in New York City, Philadelphia, or Houston. Every Friends of Karen family is paired with an experienced, dedicated social worker who will guide them for the duration of the child’s illness, and if bereavement support, unfortunately, is needed.


While Friends of Karen supports children with cancer (80+%), we also assist children with other life-threatening illnesses like sickle cell disease, organ diseases, various disorders, anemia, autoimmune and other serious illnesses. We often are the only organization that children with these other illnesses can turn to for help. Friends of Karen’s lifeline of support is available for children birth through age 21. This is important because many other organizations provide support through age 18 only or begin at age 21, so we make sure no child falls through the cracks.



The stories in this newsletter describe in real time what makes Friends of Karen special. Thank you for your support which makes all that we do possible. 


Wishing you a healthy and colorful spring!