Serving Up Smiles Raising Funds for the Encourage Kids

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A Special Evening of Food, Cocktails, Music, and Honoring the Late Michele Hall Duncan 

It was a great night at the enCourage Kids Foundation (EKF) Serving Up Smiles food tasting event this week at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. It was an evening filled with delicious food such as meatballs by LAVO and Alvin & Friends, lobster wantons by TAO Uptown, steak and crab cakes by Ben & Jack’s Steak House, delicious cheeses by Happy Boards, the most decadent chocolate covered caramel pretzels, and strawberries covered with chocolate and even cheesecake that were just killer by Sweets to Crave, and this is only to name a few. I can’t forget to mention a high-end bar by Revel, delicious wine by Jade and Shinju Japanese Whiskey which at a certain point, I couldn’t eat or drink anymore.  I have covered many events, but this truly hit the mark on so many levels outside of the outstanding food, cocktails, and music. It was a special night where they paid tribute to their late President & CEO, Michele Hall Duncan who lost her battle this past June to metastatic breast cancer. I feel truly blessed that I had the opportunity to know Michele and interview her throughout the years. It was a bittersweet night to say the least.

I spoke with Joe Wessely, EKF Board Chair, and he was beaming with such delight with the well-attended night of their premier tasting event. “All of us at enCourage Kids are beyond grateful for the continued support of our donors, sponsors and guests who are committed to the work of our organization. It is the perfect night to honor Michele and acknowledge her hard work throughout the years. I was so proud to announce The Michele Hall-Duncan Child Life Hero award which will be an annual award recognizing a Child Life professional for their outstanding service and dedication to pediatric patients.  The award will include a grant to the recipient’s institution to fund a pediatric program as another way to honor Michele’s legacy and will be granted at the 2023 enCourage Kids Gala.”

A beautiful memorial video was shown for Michele Hall Duncan and Wesley Hall, Michele’s son, delivered a beautiful and meaningful speech, honoring his mother’s 26 years of work with the organization. “This tribute was just a small way for me to share my mom’s story and her commitment to the work that she did for the families in the program. This event was her favorite because she was such a foodie and loved walking around to all the different restaurant stations and eat until her heart was content. Her bigger than life smile and passion to make hospitals a better place to get better, will live on and I will continue to do my part to keep her legacy alive.” 

ABC Sports Anchor Ryan Field emceed the program, and he made it a point to share his feelings about Michele. “I was introduced to Michele through her publicist MJ Pedone of Indra Public Relations. When MJ shared with me the work that EKF does to make hospitals a better place and how much she respected Michele as a leader, I knew that I wanted to get involved with the organization and play a part in making a difference.” Chef Ralph Scamardella (Chef & Partner TAO Group Hospitality) who served as Culinary Chair, shared his sentiments. “Michele was one of the most genuine people that I have ever met. I’m committed to this organization and help them continue to bring awareness of their work. Outstanding job by everybody here and hey, did you catch me and Joe Wessely on FOX!” 

I spoke with two former Jets players, Erik Coleman and Tony Richardson, both who are committed to the charity. “I’m so grateful for MJ for introducing me to Michele several years ago.  I will continue to support their work and do what they need to help put a smile on the faces of hospitalized children,” said Tony Richardson. “I echo Tony’s sentiments and already have a few ideas to bring to the table,” stated Erik Coleman. Matt Brust, former NBA forward, was in attendance and for him it was the first time attending the event and learning about the organization also through MJ. “I’m so happy that I was invited to attend this fantastic event but more importantly, to learn about the mission. I spoke with Joe Wessely, and other board members, and I love their passion and commitment to enCourage Kids. Joe is a winner and now I’m committed to his team.”

Steve Carbone, a board Director of EKF, shared his gratitude with me. “I’m beyond grateful to serve on a board with other like-minded and committed individuals. This is such a great night, and we are truly blessed from everybody who works behind the scenes, our child life supporters and every single one of our sponsors and donors. I look forward to seeing everybody at the spring gala.” Diane Rode, also a board Director, shared with me her feelings for Michele. “Michele was one of my dearest friends and I miss her madly. We worked closely at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, and I have so many wonderful memories of her that I can go on for days. I will always make her proud and continue the mission of EKF.”

A special shout-out to all the different restaurants and beverage companies who donated to this great night: Alvin & Friends, Avo Taco, bakeyorey, Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse, Bryant Park Grill, Butter, HappyBoards, LAVO New York, Robert, Sfoglia, Spice Culture, Sweets to Crave, TAO Uptown, B. Stuyvesant Champagne, Dr. Perricone Hydrogen Water, Fever-Tree, FIJI Water, Jade Sparkling Wine, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, Landmark Vineyards, Newburgh Brewing Company, Owl’s Brew, Revel Spirits Inc., Shinju Japanese Whiskey, Whitley Neill Gin, and Zyr Vodka.        

These great sponsors need to be mentioned as their donations keep the programs and services of the organization going: ARK RESTAURANTS, BRYANT PARK GRILL, CAPITAL ONE, COUGAR Capital, The Donut Pub, Feil Family Foundation, GFP Real Estate, ROBERT, Signature Bank, Lucy and David Ball, Goldberg Weprin Finkel Goldstein LLP, CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD, BUCHBINDER & WARREN, and Emerson Amusements Company.

EKF has several life-altering programs to help make hospitals a better place to get better. Their Jay Anderson Pediatric Hospital Support Program is their cornerstone program and funds grants to hospitals for a variety of programs such as creative arts and music therapy programs and facility dogs for patients and pediatric staff.  The enCourage Kids Bear program provides cuddly teddy bears to pediatric patients that provide much needed solace and serves as a valuable teaching tool to help kids develop coping skills.

This year, the organization received a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to create a mental health comfort kit program.  Working with input from their panel of healthcare professionals from across the country, they developed 3 different comfort kits that contain safe items that can be given to hospitalized kids with mental health needs, particularly those who are on a psychiatric hold or watch. The grant is providing 2,500 comfort kits for kids being served at 4 NYC Health + Hospitals facilities. Just another great program and work of the enCourage Kids Foundation.

Needless to say, all of us in the room were truly moved and inspired to continue to support this very special organization. If you would like to get involved with the EKF or donate, please visit www.encourage-kids.org

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