It was a beautiful October night on the Hudson for the enCourage Kids Serving Up Smiles food tasting event at Chelsea Piers. The Lighthouse was the perfect place to host hundreds of supporters in a venue filled with many of the best restaurants and chefs from NYC. A Tuesday night of eating delicious food, bar tastings, silent auction filled with some exciting items and dance music by Live Wire Band all for a great cause, to make hospitals a better place to get better! Our favorite ABC sports anchor, Ryan Field was on hand to emcee the evening festivities and pay tribute to the late Michele Hall Duncan alongside Board Chair, Joe Wessely and Wesley Hall, son of Michele, who delivered a heartwarming speech to a packed crowd.
A beautiful memorial video played to pay tribute to Michele. Wesley delivered an engaging and meaningful speech, capturing his mother’s tenure and tireless work with the organization. “This tribute was just a small way for me to share my mom’s professional journey and her 26 years of commitment to the work that she did for the families in the program. She loved working with the child life specialists, the volunteers, donors, her staff, the board, the families and of course, everybody she met along the way who supported the mission. Serving Up Smiles was my mom’s favorite event. She loved any type of food and would eat all night during this event so you would always know exactly where to find her. I’m so grateful for the recognition of my mother’s hard work and the Michele Hall-Duncan Child Life Hero Award. This is a great way to keep her legacy alive and acknowledge what her work has meant to the organization.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Joe Wessely who was so welcoming and eager to share his passion with me. “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 was the perfect night to honor Michele and acknowledge her hard work throughout the years.” To everybody’s surprise and excitement, he went on to proudly announce the Michele Hall-Duncan Child Life Hero Award, 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.”
Such a special honor to memorialize a woman who I have had the pleasure to interview many times throughout the years as well as cover the events which she excitedly hosted.
Chef Ralph Scamardella (Chef & Partner TAO Group Hospitality) served as Culinary Chair and shared a few of his thoughts with us. “Michele was one of the most genuine people that I have ever met. We had the chance to work together with some of the enCourage Kids families as well as at the events. We also interviewed together as a dynamic duo spreading the word about enCourage Kids and Serving Up Smiles. I’m so grateful for our time together, but she will surely be missed.”
I spoke with Chef Admir Alibasic, Executive Chef of Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse as he was getting ready to put a little flame to a steak. “I love being part of this event each year and watching it continue to grow. This is one organization that truly stands by its mission and I’m proud to support them each year.”
Ryan Field shared his sentiments about Michele and the organization. “From the minute that I met Michele, I knew I wanted to work with her and we became fast friends. Spending time with Joe Wessely and speaking with a few of the board members such as Steve Carbone, Diane Rode and Joan Palermo, their loyalty and commitment is loud and clear. I look forward to continuing to do my role in helping the organizations in continuing to spread their great work and mission.”
Erik Coleman and Tony Richardson two former Jets players, spoke with me about their commitment to the charity. “I’m so grateful to work with this team and I will continue to support their mission,” said Tony Richardson. “I love supporting enCourage Kids whenever I can. This is a great organization that truly makes a difference,” stated Erik Coleman.
Steve Carbone, a board Director of enCourage Kids, shared his gratitude and love for Michele. “Michele brought me in as a board member, and I miss her very much. She was a very special person and a blessing to all of us. I’m beyond grateful to serve on a board with other like-minded and committed individuals and I look forward to seeing everybody at the spring Gala.”
Serving Up Smiles had decadent plates prepared by Alvin & Friends, Avo Taco, bakeyorey, Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse, Bryant Park Grill, Butter, HappyBoards, LAVO New York, Robert, Sfoglia, Spice Culture, Sweets to Crave and TAO Uptown. The beverage companies that had a big presence were 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.
Generous donations came in through these sponsors; 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.
enCourage Kids 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.
There are so many ways to support this organization and it’s as simple as a donation directly to their website www.encourage-kids.org or by making your amazon purchases through smile.amazon.com and type in enCourage Kids Foundation and adding them as your charity of choice.
In closing, a great night was had by all, and we look forward to seeing everybody at the spring Gala. Always remember, it’s for the kids!