When Gisele DiNatale created the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation with her husband Mario in honor of her daughter Alicia in 2002, she didn’t think what the foundation would be like years down the road.
“We barely thought four weeks ahead,” DiNatale said.
Fourteen years later, the foundation has grown to heights DiNatale never dreamed of, helping thousand of hospitalized teenagers around the country.
Its biggest fundraiser of the year, the 14th Annual Birthday Bash, will be held on Oct. 28 from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. at Lucien’s Manor in Berlin.
The event will feature a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner and top-shelf open bar with more than 150 unique basket and silent auctions. Proceeds go toward funding for ARVF’s “Victorious 4 Teens” programs offered to hospitalized children.
Alicia died from a rare form of cancer shortly after her 17th birthday. While she was undergoing chemotherapy and treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there wasn’t much to do outside of her hospital room. There were no activities to do and no places in the hospital for her to hangout and feel like a normal kid.
DiNatale never forgot how Alicia felt during those times and channeled those feelings into this foundation. Its mission is to raise awareness and provide strength and support for teens and young adults with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
The foundation makes bandana pillows and teen kits that are sent to critically ill teenagers throughout the country. The kits include arts and crafts and games, activities for them to play with. They have also installed teen lounges in various hospitals for teenagers to hang out, rooms that include televisions, DVD players and video games.
DiNatale chose a superhero theme for the bash this year to honor those teenagers who are the real heroes.
“Our theme is not all superheroes wear capes,” she explained. “We will have photos of kids letting people know what they are stronger, and it’s fascinating what they came up with. You think they say I’m stronger than the Hulk, but the ones we got weren’t like that.”
One of those teenagers is Dakota, who is in isolation at a hospital for four to six weeks. Her photo says, “I’m stronger than my surroundings.”
“I visited her and literally her surroundings are a wall one foot in front of her, walls one foot to each side,” DiNatale said. “She can’t get out into the hallway. I thought, my goodness, you have to be strong if you can be stronger than that little space you have to stay inside for six weeks.”
DiNatale was so inspired by Dakota, she now writes a weekly blog for the foundation’s website.
“We’re empowered because of the validation that there is such a need for this, and we are continuing to do this great work,” DiNatale said. “What it does more than anything, it validates our mission statement and the vision we had 14 years ago. I believe Alicia’s hand is all over this.”
This year, Lenny Wood, managing member of Wade, Long, Wood & Long, LLC and chairman of the Order Sons of Italy in America, New Jersey chapter, has been named 2016 “Victorious Community Champion.” He is also on the foundation’s Board of Trustees. DiNatale said Wood was crucial in getting ARVF to be one of the charities to which OSIA would donate.
“We’re honoring him because he had done so much for our foundation,” she said. “We are always looking for talent, treasures or time. Lenny does 100 percent and more in each of those areas. He really is a hero for us.”
Tickets to the birthday bash cost $130. If you cannot attend but would like to donate, visit www.arvf/org.