I had the opportunity to sit down with Jean Butler, the President and CEO of enCourage Kids Foundation, a renowned nonprofit organization which helps humanize healthcare for children and their families through resourcing impact-driven pediatric programs. Jean works with hospital administrators, community leaders, corporations, private enterprise, and a committed staff team to improve the hospital experience for pediatric patients. Under Jean’s leadership, the Foundation supports innovations and initiatives that address the physical health and mental well-being of children while they are in the hospital. Jean joined EKF with more than 25 years of experience in a variety of executive roles in business and philanthropy. 

Prior to joining enCourage Kids, Jean was President of New Key Pet LLC, a pet products company, where she expanded distribution to mass market and specialty retailers and developed a new line of innovative products. Jean was the Chief Executive of The Toy Foundation, where she created and launched national programs with Ronald McDonald House Charities, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the U.S. Department of Defense, CASA For Children, Amazon, Target, Toys R Us, and more. She led the research, design, and development of a multi-million-dollar evidence-based research program with a renowned Children’s HealthSystem to analyze the role of play in the healing and recovery process among pediatric patients. Her innovative marketing and media programs, which resulted in first-ever national media coverage of North American toy industry philanthropy, have been featured on NBC Nightly News and The Today Show. In recognition of her significant contributions to the field, Jean received the Wonder Women in Toys Award.

Prior to joining the children’s toy industry, Jean held several senior business development and sales positions at Time Warner Inc., where she received the Award of Excellence for Outstanding Financial Contribution from Time Warner’s Executive Management. Jean holds a BA in Economics from the College of the Holy Cross and an MBA in Marketing from the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business and was an adjunct instructor in the global MBA program at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business.

Every day, enCourage Kids Foundation works to humanize healthcare for children in hospitals. “We partner with more than 330 pediatric facilities across the country, providing a robust and diverse menu of programming that allows us to give our hospital partners options to support the kids and families in their care. Battling a serious illness or dealing with a critical injury is often an unbearable challenge. Every child’s needs are different, and our programs are special and valuable not only for the patients but also for the caretakers. For example, our Bear Program provides comfort, normalcy and even creates an opportunity for medical play to help a child cope with a diagnosis or prep for an upcoming procedure. Through our flagship program, the Jay Anderson Pediatric Hospital Support Fund, we fund creative arts therapies that give kids a creative outlet to process and express themselves during times of trauma. We look for and support innovative programs and technologies that are not only useful now but will have far-reaching impact. We have been doing this for 39 years and it is our goal to ensure that every child experience joy, hope, and emotional healing during their medical journey and beyond.”

enCourage Kids Foundation his holding their annual Serving Up Smiles for tasting event.  This is their signature event that is highly attended.  “Yes, we’re very excited to be holding our Serving Up Smiles tasting event on Monday, October 16th at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers and want to invite all your readers to join us! Serving Up Smiles has become our most popular fundraising event—and why wouldn’t it be? It’s an evening that offers delectable dishes from some of New York City’s top restaurants, irresistible wines and spirits, and a silent auction filled with a menagerie of incredible items and one-of-a-kind experiences! Plus, the waterfront venue offers a gorgeous view of the Hudson River. It’s a perfect night out with your friends or coworkers where you can get away from the hustle and bustle, enjoy some fabulous food, do a little dancing to music provided by DJ Chef, and simply have a good time, all while supporting a meaningful cause.”

“enCourage Kids is a very special organization that has been lucky to have a dedicated and passionate group of supporters and volunteers, some of whom have stayed committed to the organization for dozens of years. They are devoted to our mission and our work wouldn’t be possible without them! The same goes for our tasting participants. Some have been coming back to the event year after year. We often say they are all part of our enCourage Kids family. They believe in our mission, in the work we do, and in the tangible impact they help us to make in the lives of so many children and families who face unimaginable struggles every day. That level of commitment and that energy is palpable as soon as you enter the room, and you just know you’re going to experience something special.”

“We’re grateful for Chef Ralph Scamardella, Partner and Chef of the prestigious TAO Group Hospitality, who is our Culinary Chair almost since the beginning. Not only can we count on him to lend his culinary talents to Serving Up Smiles, but he also is very generous in donating his time to make TV appearances on our behalf. Whenever we can, we love to engage him to entertain pediatric patients at one of our partner hospitals, Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, where he performs cooking demonstrations and answers questions from the kids on their closed-circuit television network, KidZone TV, which is broadcast live throughout the hospital. He is such a dear friend and advocate for enCourage Kids and we could not be more grateful for his support over the years.”

“This year we have a wonderful mix of new participants and returning favorites serving up selections to suit a variety of palates. There are three restaurants from Tao Group Hospitality–Tao Downtown, LAVO and Beauty & Essex. All three are fan favorites—who could resist those LAVO meatballs! Bryant Part Grill and Robert of Ark Restaurants Corp are returning thanks to our friend and board director Michael Weinstein. Ocean Prime, Sfoglia and Cardinali Bakery will also be back. We’re excited to welcome a few newcomers who are new to the event but certainly not to the NYC culinary scene—Hunt & Fish Club who will serve their delicious Gnocchi Bolognese and Gnocchi Mushrooms, Dolce Bella will be offering a to-die-for luxury Italian ice and Be B.I.O. Café’s vegan and gluten free desserts that will tempt even the most die-hard carnivore. Also joining us is The Curry Blossom and F. Ottomanelli By The Water, to name a few.”

“We have a diverse assortment of wine and spirits lined up, including wine from JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery and Landmark Vineyards, as well as Zyr Vodka, Whitley Neill Gin, Gelstons Irish Whiskey, Jade Sparkling Wine, Newburgh Brewing Company, Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea, and Dr. Perricone Hydrogen Water.We are tremendously grateful to our sponsors who make up the core of our fundraising at this event: Gold Sponsors Ark Restaurants Corp, Flagstar Bank, Feil Family Foundation, Cougar Capital & The Donut Pub, and GFP Real Estate; Silver SponsorsLucy and David Ball, and Segal McCambridge; Photo Booth Sponsors Emerson Entertainment and Goldberg Weprin; and Giveaway Item Sponsor Buchbinder & Warren.We still have sponsorships available for anyone interested. This is the perfect event for corporations who want to make a significant impact to dive in! Sponsorships are available at $5,000, $10,000, $15,000, and $25,000, and include a variety of branding opportunities and other benefits at each level, including tickets to the event!”

Now we know every good fundraising event has an auction. “Yes! With our auction, we try to solicit donations of experiences and items that cover a wide range of categories that will suit all interests—sports memorabilia, travel packages, golf foursomes, private dining, and one-of-a-kind experiences. Some of the items up for auction are Passes to the Rockefeller Tree Lighting, Tickets to a NY Giants or NY Jets game in the FanDuel Suite at Met Life Stadium, Tickets to see Madonna in Concert, Dinner for 4 at Rao’s, a 3-night Stay at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in Mexico and Tickets to Hamilton, to name a few. Be sure to check out the Serving Up Smiles website, www.ekf-sus.org, on October 10th when the auction goes live! The holidays are approaching fast, so this is a great opportunity to find that perfect gift for that difficult-to-buy-for relative or friend.”

“The funds from this event will help support the Teddy Bear Program, which we mentioned earlier. We will have an exciting announcement soon enough about a new partnership which will help us distribute Bears to more hospitals around the country, and the funds from this event will go a long way towards putting a cuddly, incredibly soft furry friend into the hands of more children who are in need of some joy and comfort.”

“Tickets for Serving Up Smiles can be purchased at our event website, www.ekf-sus.org. Bidding for the auction begins the week before the event on Tuesday, October 10th, and you don’t need to attend the event to bid so we encourage the readers to share the auction link with friends and family, even those who live outside the tri-state area.”

For nearly 40 years, enCourage Kids has invested more than 50 million dollars to help medically challenged kids, their families, and hospitals. Their unique approach in asking their hospital partners to tell them what they need rather than providing cookie cutter programming differentiates enCourage Kids from other organizations. Time and again, their partners tell them how much they appreciate that they can reach out to them to fulfill the specific needs of the patients and communities they serve. It’s an important difference with a significant impact. 

Please visit www.encourage-kids.org and their social media to learn more about the work they do, and to learn that by supporting enCourage Kids, you can truly make a difference in the lives of the children they serve. 

X: @encourage_kids

Instagram: @encouragekids

Facebook: @encouragekidsfoundation

LinkedIn:  @encourage-kids-foundation

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