Last week, Justin Hartley, NBC This Is Us, took over the web and hosted the enCourage Kids Serving Up Smiles virtual event presented by Revel Spirits. Michele Hall Duncan, President & CEO enCourage Kids Foundation along with Ryan Field, ABC Sports Anchor, who emceed the event, was live at Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse in NYC. Super star guests joining them were NY Giants Super Bowl Champions Howard Cross and Luke Petitgout and former NY Jets star Tony Richardson who are dedicated supporters of the organization.
Culinary Chair, Ralph Scamardella (Chef & Partner TAO Group) along with Chef John Cleveland (Executive Chef & Owner Post & Beam LA) and Chef Jessica Scott (Corporate Pastry Chef 50 Eggs Hospitality Group) showed off their culinary skills by demoing their favorite dishes live from their own homes. Demonstrating their mixology talents, were Jimmy Seargeant (Creative Director Revel Spirits), Tony Margiotta (President Gladiator Wine Distribution) and Roger Mulligan (Beer Aficionada The Capital Grille).
I caught up with Duncan to speak to her about their first virtual event. “Producing a virtual event was a completely new experience for us and it was exciting to be able to connect with people from across the country who likely would not have attended our in-person event.” I certainly agree with Duncan because lately, we have been able to attend virtual events as far as Europe which is such a big upside for guests living far away. “Yes, for sure! Our guests had the opportunity to hop-in and out of the session rooms to enjoy musical guest Acute Inflections, Matias Letelier (Illusionist) and Katrina “Kat Tat” Jackson (Commercial & Tattoo Artist). Guests were able to see world-class chefs in the Kitchen and mixologists in the Bar.”
The evening also honored some very important people. “Yes! We recognized Cory Elbaum who is with Angelo Gordon and Rob Turner who is with Eastdil Secured, LLC with the Jeffrey Gural Leadership Award and Dr. Kusum Viswanathan who is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and the hospital’s Director of Pediatric Hematology & Oncology with the Healthcare Leadership Award. She is one of the most highly regarded physicians in her field, beloved by other medical professionals, patients and parents alike. Her expertise has made her a vital partner to enCourage Kids for over 20 years. Leading with passion and empathy, ensuring every child feels heard and understood, Dr. Vis is the living embodiment of our values as an organization and it was a distinct pleasure to honor her.” Dr. Vis certainly deserves the recognition for her dedication and I congratulate her as well.
The night was certainly a success and there were so many generous sponsors and guests involved in the success of the night. “I’m beyond grateful for the support from Revel Spirits, GFP Real Estate, Signature Bank, Humana, Feil Family Foundation, DJ Chef and all those who attended the event. Also, my staff at enCourage Kids, Indra Public Relations and Marc Brogdon all did an amazing job in ensuring the success of this event and I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.” It is always nice to recognize the hard work of those who work for you. How will you look at the events going forward? “We will continue to look for new opportunities to engage our donors in an increasingly competitive landscape. What our fundraising events look like will, of course, depend on the track the pandemic continues to take. The introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine is very encouraging and we are hopeful to be able to hold an in-person Annual Gala in the spring. But like most non-profits, we are also exploring other options in the virtual space.” I think we are all starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel now that the vaccine will be distributed throughout our country. Honestly, I miss the in-person events and attending all of yours. They are always fun, well-attended and exciting to be at. “Thank you!”
Next up, our favorite time of the year, the holidays. What will enCourage Kids be doing this year for the families? “Every year we plan a large holiday party for more than 100 of our enCourage Kids and their families which takes place at the amazing Clyde Frazier’s Wine & Dine Restaurant. Since we weren’t able to hold an in-person party this year, we will be going virtual! We have a fun schedule of activities planned to include arts & crafts, holiday games, live entertainment, a raffle with amazing prizes, and the children will even have the opportunity to meet Santa in a separate virtual room. Throughout the pandemic, we have organized several virtual gatherings and are so grateful to be able to provide a fun and supportive space for our enCourage Kids families to connect with us and each other from the safety of their homes. The feedback from the families has been incredible.” That’s fantastic and a great pivot during these times. That certainly sounds like great fun for the children and their families in the comfort and safety of their homes.
You have provided support to over 286 hospitals. Will you continue to add to your long list? “Absolutely! We believe in our vision of a world where every child—regardless of the difficulty of their medical journey—experiences joy, hope, resilience, and healing. Over the past several years, we have grown from a tri-state area organization to one that partners with 286 pediatric facilities in 41 states and Puerto Rico, and we want to reach even more!” That is fantastic and I commend you for your outstanding work and resilience. Looking ahead to 2021, what do you see for the organization? Ever since the pandemic hit, our focus has been to step in and help the communities that are inundated, providing the support and critical resources they uniquely need, when they need it. For years, we have listened to the needs of Child Life Specialists across the country. We hear them now when they say things around them are changing at a rapid pace. What they need today may look completely different than what they need tomorrow or from what they needed two months ago. They are trained to be flexible, adaptable, and creative. So are we. For months, we have been working closely with hospitals across the country to respond to immediate needs and preemptively prepare for what is to come and we will continue to do more of that in 2021.
The pandemic has taught us a lot; in particular it has taught us to be flexible and to think outside the box. As a result, we are planning an innovative new program initiative to launch in Spring 2021 that will change the delivery of our in-hospital programming as well as increase our reach and impact across the country. We’re really excited about it and encourage everyone to stay tuned and follow us on our social media to learn more in the coming months.” Wow! I commend you on your tireless efforts and the wherewithal to shift gears in order to help those children and families as well as the Child Life Supporters who need as much assistance as possible during challenging times. “Thank you so much! I feel blessed to do what I love each and every day knowing that we can make a difference in so many lives.”
“I truly appreciate this opportunity to let readers know about the amazing work we do. We try to help everyone in the hospital who is on the frontline — the Child Life Specialists, the doctors, the nurses — with the things that they need that insurance doesn’t cover, to help those hospitalized children and their psychosocial well-being. We have been doing this for 35 years and we are a true leader and an impactful partner with hospitals across the country. Over the years, we’ve invested over 50 million dollars to help medically challenged kids, their families, and hospitals, and we’re excited to do even more. It’s our passion for improving the lives of these kids and their family members that continues to drive us, especially now. Through all the challenges we are facing today, children still need our support more than ever. Hospitals need our support more than ever. Communities need our support more than ever. This means that we need donor support more than ever. We are grateful to all the generous supporters who help us keep our promise to humanize healthcare for children and their families.”
I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to speak with me and sharing the great work that you’re doing! I wish you continued success and I look forward to seeing you at the next event hopefully, in-person. “Thank you so much for speaking with me and I look forward to seeing you soon! I wish everybody a blessed holiday season.”
To learn more about the organization and make a donation: www.encourage-kids.org.
You can be social with the enCourage kids everyday all day and share their great work you’re your community!