What started as a birthday present that gave a local group of friends the opportunity to meet the Hartford Whalers has become a 27-year-old organization of Avon teenagers fighting to erase pediatric cancer.
On Friday night, the current generation of Kids for Kids will present a check of $2,400 raised for the the cancer fund at a holiday event Riverdale Farms Shopping has hosted for 31 years. The festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Kids for Kids formed in 1986 to "to benefit the UConn Children’s Cancer Fund," said Theresa Brighenti, owner of Riverdale Farms and a longtime adviser of Kids for Kids. The private non-profit supports pediatric cancer patients "by raising funds for the treatment and research and by spending time with children undergoing cancer treatments," according to the Kids for Kids mission statement.
The UConn Children's Cancer Fund was the primary charity the Hartford Whalers supported before the hockey franchise left Connecticut. Raising money for the charity was the teenagers' way to thank the Whalers and contribute to a greater cause. Brighenti's daughter and original co-advisor Bud Desmond's daughter were in the first Kids for Kids group.
Riverdale Farms first invited the non-profit organization to be a part of their holiday festivities 27 years ago when the teenagers were looking to start an annual event for their cause. Kids for Kids chose the first weekend of December for the annual holiday event and the tradition has stuck.
“We brought the kids in so they could have some place to give their donation and have the opportunity to talk about it," Brighenti said.
High school students living in Avon comprise the non-profit. To date, the group has raised more than $178,000 for the UConn Children's Cancer Fund, Brighenti said.
"Teenagers never get enough credit for the good work that they do," Brighenti said.
Over the years, teenagers in the non-profit have done bake sales, car washes and other fundraisers for the cancer fund. They've also visited child cancer patients in the hospital and dressed as Easter bunnies for the spring holiday. Every August, Kids for Kids also brings cancer patients and their family's to Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury.
At least three of the original non-profit members have gone into the field of medicine because of Kids for Kids, Brighenti said.
Gina Federico Muslim, director of development for the University of Connecticut Health Center, will accept the check at the holiday event. She said that Kids for Kids helps draw in a new donor base for the cancer fund and that UConn "count on them for such great support." The fund benefits the Child Life Program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in partnership with UConn.
Tyler Mattioda, president of the non-profit and an Avon High School student, will be the master of ceremonies for the holiday event Friday.
Every year at the event, a pediatric cancer patient lights the eight-foot Candle of Hope and the Riverdale Farms Christmas tree. This year, Connecticut Children's Medical Center patient Cameron Merritt, of Winsted, will do the honors and he has agreed to speak at the event. The candle lighting recognizes "fellow patients and supporters," a press release from Riverdale Farms stated.
Kids for Kids members will gather in a group with Merritt and walk with lighted candles before he lights the giant candle.
Before Kids for Kids was involved, the Riverdale Farms event had many of the same holiday festivities it does now, including elements of an old-fashioned Christmas. Families who attend will be able to enjoy a carol sing, hot chocolate and cookies, hayrides and the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in a horse-drawn sleigh.
“To me it’s a little bit of what Christmas used to be before it got commercial," Brighenti said. “It’s fun, it’s free, it’s community," Brighenti said. "You don’t have to buy anything or bring anything."
While some of the businesses may be open later hours, the emphasis is on the teens and their cause, she said.
The event will be held rain or shine. Admission and parking are free. Riverdale Farms is is located at 124 Simsbury Rd. in Avon.
More information is available at www.RiverdaleFarmsShopping.com or you could call the shopping center at 860-677-6437.
Editor's Note: Great news! Kids for Kids raised an additional $700, making the total raised this year $2,400. The article has been updated to reflect the new total.