WANTAGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It’s been around for 25 years — the last decade in Wantagh, Long Island, where some call it the pulse of their community.
Now, a children’s cancer and family center is in danger of closing.
Victoria Riccadri died at the age of 9, her parents Judith and John have sought solace at the respected ‘John Theissen’s Children Foundation’ in Wantagh.
“From my own experience I know what he can do for families, if he had to leave it would be disastrous,” John Riccardi said.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the space offers free entertainment for sick children, as well as financial and emotional help for their families. Now, it’s in jeopardy of closing.
Despite a caring community that was dropping off checks while a CBS2 news team was there, donations and funding are at an all time low.
Theissen — a childhood cancer survivor himself — turned personal trauma into his life purpose, beginning 25 years ago.
“John, ‘they just called about your CAT scan and it’s not good, you have a brain tumor,’ and I said to myself on that day, ‘how long do I have to live?’ And that was the day my life turned around,” he said.
Theissen made it his full-time work to visit sick children, make wishes come true, and host parties in his center filled with toys, crafts, and games — including the final six birthday parties for David Jones of Franklin Square.
His mother Laurie is mourning the recent loss of her only child.
“His last party being in hospice, John made it happen at our house because we couldn’t get here, and it was beautiful,” she said.
Social media has taken off in support of Theissen’s foundation, but will it be enough? They need at least $50,000.
Some long time donors have given support in other ways.
“A lot of turkeys, a lot of hams, so I will donate a lot of those to John, and he hands them out at Easter and Christmas, and Thanksgiving,” Rich Genovese said, “That’s more tangible and more rewarding to me.”
Foundation volunteer Gail Sherwood remembers what Theissen did for her godson.
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death. John was like a savior to him. This place meant so much to Matthew that I have been volunteering for 15 years,” she said.
Theissen’s lease expires in two months. The foundation’s mission will continue, but supporters said closing the doors will deeply affect families struggling with sick children.
Middle and high school students in Nassau County volunteer at the foundation’s weekend parties as part of their community service mission.