Sometimes, suddenly and unexpectedly, our lives can change completely and catastrophically. One of the worst things that can befall a family is a diagnosis of cancer. As we all know, cancer does not discriminate; it affects all ages and ethnicities, the rich and the poor. When an innocent child is stricken with a terminal illness, the pain and suffering by the child and the entire family, along with the fear and uncertainty of the outcome, can be life shattering.
The mission of Larger Than Life, an Israeli nonprofit organization founded in 2000, is to help in every way possible—to bring a smile to a sick child and to give hope that the illness can be fought. Larger Than Life aims to improve the quality of life and the welfare of children with cancer as well as their families in Israel, regardless or faith, race or gender. The largest organization in Israel of its type, the charity delivers services throughout the country’s hospitals and in private homes.
Larger Than Life has an active corps of volunteers in Great Neck and across Long Island, and the scope of their efforts on behalf of terminally ill children is truly impressive and praiseworthy.
Dedicated local volunteers support Israeli families who come to the United States for medical treatment throughout the year. Dozens of local families have reached into their own pockets to sponsor meals, transportation, housing and activities. Devoted teams of volunteers provide these families with help at hospitals, such as Sloan Kettering. They provide lifesaving treatments, temporary housing and kosher meals.
Like Make a Wish and other well-established nonprofits, Larger Than Life makes wishes come true for sick children in the most creative and generous ways. In order to rejuvenate the spirit of the children and their families, Larger Than Life arranges dream trips, exciting activities and delivers armfuls of gifts.
Throughout the entire year, the nonprofit organizes a variety of fun and meaningful activities for children and their families through the tireless efforts of its giving volunteers and trustees. Long Island donors have been involved in raising funds for the Smile Train for Purim, Summer Camp in Israel, establishing music and computer rooms in Israeli hospitals, The Dream Trip to Disney World and the Medication Funding Foundation.
Enjoyable experiences such as camp and trips are extremely important in the recovery process and enable children with cancer to connect with other children sharing their predicament, even for a few days, as they share happy, normal childhood experiences, which healthy children their age take for granted.
The Long Island chapter is comprised mainly of Great Neck residents, including Chairman Avi Cohen, Board Advisor Albert Nassim, Executive Director Netta Nathaniel and Assistant Shoshana Rubenstein. Active Great Neck volunteers include Marav Cohen, Noushin Ebrani, Anna Hakakian, Tali Damaghi and Dina Khani. Other Long Island volunteers include Mirra Zara of Oyster Bay and Geralda Sarraf and Betty Kalimian Mossanen of Old Westbury.
Adopt a Family
Chairman Cohen conceived of the idea to Adopt a Family to deliver emotional support and healing to families dealing with childhood cancer. Recently, two Israeli girls, Shahar and Daniella, came to New York with their families for medical treatment. Volunteers Hakakian, Zara and Khani asked the families for a wish list of specific items they needed, as well as a few items they would love to have but could survive without.
Within a few days, thanks to the generous response of community members, the volunteers arranged for new Ugg boots, a warm hooded jacket, trendy clothes, tickets to The Lion King on Broadway and a day of pampering in Great Neck for the entire group.
“The overwhelming positive response and people’s willingness to help with open arms was a warm welcome to these families and restored faith in humanity,” said Cohen. “Given the opportunity to help, many Great Neck friends often asked to be on a wait list to make and deliver food. Since then, we have arranged many day trips for families to come to Great Neck for a ‘mini vacation,’ depending on the unique needs, the ages of the children and the siblings, and the limitations of their illness and the side effect of its treatment.”
He added, “Visitors leave Great Neck with an unexpected good feeling and many times it conceals the negative experiences of their difficult journey by the warm hearts of strangers opening their homes, their hearts and giving their time to treat them like family.”
The Larger Than Life volunteers go the extra mile to show warmth and love to the afflicted families, many of whom are uprooted for months at a time while their child is being treated in New York hospitals.
Besides delivering gifts and support at the hospitals, volunteers cook homemade meals and deliver them to the families and take them out to dinner. Long Island volunteers also arrange for massages and beauty treatments for the parents, as well as surprise gifts, such as laptops, for the child and siblings. They plan activities like Muddworks, Knicks games, playdates, Passover Seders, park outings, shopping trips, baby showers and birthday parties.
Local businesses, including Confidanze, have sponsored Zumba parties and dance classes, and services have been provided by Metro Florists, Hollywood Photographers and Noor Video. Local restaurants, such as Chattanooga and 27 Dressings, have similarly donated services to grateful Larger Than Life families, as has Chocolate Works in Manhasset. The Andrew Hotel in Great Neck has also been extremely generous in supporting the families, while other local businesses have given generous discounts.
“Larger Than Life is tangible, it is touching and it is emotional,” said Hakakian, who became involved with the organization in 2013, when she was looking for a worthy cause for her daughter’s bat mitzvah project. “It is special in so many ways because it doesn’t matter what you have or how much. Illness affects anyone at any age. The beauty is also in the fact that people give their time and do it from the heart at whatever capacity they are comfortable in, whether it’s financial or time or both, to help complete strangers who are suffering. Larger Than Life is based on volunteers and we each give so much of our time because we are passionate about it.”
Hakakian continued her involvement with the organization for her younger daughter’s bat mitzvah two years later, and added, “The connections become everlasting bonds of friendship, where it touches the core of humanity regardless of their race, religion or anything else. It’s about humans treating humans like family and strangers leaving the U.S. and going back home with renewed hope and faith in humanity. We have cried with them, laughed with them and all emotions in between.”
Upcoming Fundraising Gala
On the evening of May 15, Larger Than Life will hold its annual Long Island fundraising event in Old Westbury, which supports the charity’s bigger programs, such as annual trips to Disney, summer camps and a unique pre-K school for children with cancer that was established in 2015. The gala, featuring famed performer Lior Suchard, is sure to draw a large crowd. Purchase tickets, learn about the many programs and opportunities to support this worthwhile cause by donating or volunteering at www.largerthanlifeusa.org or 888-644-4040.