By KRISTEN BOERKE
KRISTEN BOERKE FOR THE WIZARD WEEKLY
For nearly twenty five years, a gift tree has been up in the main office of Washingtonville High School. Year after year, students and faculty alike generously take tags off this tree and follow up by placing a gift underneath. However, many do not actually know what happens after they place their items beneath the tree. Who delivers these presents and to whom?
The tree that has been standing in the office each year is actually there because of one person: Doreen Diemer, a secretary at the WHS. She started this tradition about 25 years ago after her daughter, Michele, was diagnosed with leukemia. A social worker reached out to Mrs. Diemer and told her about an organization called Friends of Karen and their lives were changed forever.
Friends of Karen is an organization that supports critically-ill children and their families. Executive Director Judith R. Factor explained, “Our mission is to provide emotional, financial, and advocacy support for families caring for children with life threatening illnesses so that they are able to cope, remain stable, and have a good quality of life when they are dealing with a very very difficult situation.”
When asked what her favorite part of the Friends of Karen tree is, Diemer expressed, “Seeing how generous everyone is and bringing in the gifts. Bringing them down to the organization, seeing how hard these volunteers work, and all the families that they help makes it all worthwhile”
Mrs. Diemer and her daughter, Michele Santillo
Friends of Karen started in 1978 and will be celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2018. The organization was started by a kind-hearted woman named Sheila Peterson whose neighbor’s daughter, Karen, became terminally ill. Instead of being in the hospital, Karen decided to return home to live out the remainder of her life with her family. That is when Shelia decided to seek the help of her community. She was not disappointed; they supported Karen and her family with $36,000 along with their kindness and other generosities. The benevolence of her community allowed Karen to spend her remaining days in peace.
Judith R. Factor sets forth a very true statement: “Illness isn’t seasonal.” Standing by this statement, Friends of Karen provides year-round care for children with life threatening illnesses and their families. For example, when a child in this program has a birthday, Friends of Karen graciously provides that child with a gift. Most families’ medical bills do not leave money for birthday gifts, so Friends of Karen makes it possible.
Supplying gifts is not the only way Friends of Karen gives back. They often pay for medical bills, rent, and food. From there, the family is matched with a social worker that helps support the family in their time of need. The organization’s most popular time of year is the holidays, but they also have back to school programs where they collect items necessary for children to be successful in school.
Unloading the gifts donated by WHS
The afflicted child may not be the only one in need of support; siblings take a major toll when their brother or sister becomes terminally ill. Luckily, Friends of Karen has a sibling support group that provides care to all members of the family in any way they can.
The Friends of Karen organization has helped over 900 families this holiday season. “Friends of Karen is the greatest organization I hope you never need to know,” voiced the executive director herself.
This organization is an amazing way to give to those who truly need it this holiday season and all year round. Thanks to Mrs. Diemer, Washingtonville has been, and will continue to be, involved with Friends of Karen.