24th Annual Party for Life Benefits Kids Need More Charity

party for life
Emilia Debowski, Wojtek Debowski, Steve Hiestand & Nicole Hiestand
Photo by Ed Shin

24th Annual Party for Life Benefits Kids Need More Charity

Supporters filled the Heritage Club at Bethpage for the 24th Annual Party for Life in Memory of Peter Careccia on May 25. The fundraiser benefitted KiDS NEED MoRE, a local 501(c)(3) charity helping families coping with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

The event was founded by Dr. Joseph and MaryAnn Mills to help their friends, John & Kathy Careccia, whose young son, Peter, was struggling with a non-malignant spinal cord tumor. Peter passed away, but in his name, the Mills family and the Careccia family carried on his legacy through the Party for Life. To date, the event has raised nearly 3 million dollars for charity and has benefitted thousands of children. 

Each year the event unites a stem cell donor and recipient for the first time at the event. This year’s donor/recipient meeting was facilitated by KiDS NEED MoRE president and founder, Melissa Firmes, who is herself a cancer survivor and stem cell recipient.

party for life
Mary Ann MillsPhoto by Ed Shin

KiDS NEED MoRE flew in the donor, Wojtek and his family all the way from Poland, and Steve Hiestand and his wife Nicole from Florida to meet for the very first time at the event.

Firmes connected the donor with Polonia of Long Island, who speak Polish and were able to help support Wojtek and his family during their stay.

The room was very emotional as Dr. Mills and MaryAnn presented Wojtek with the Peter Careccia Humanitarian Award for his selfless act of saving the life of Steve, who he had never even met. Local stem cell donor Kathy Cripps was also honored for saving the life of Susan Mateiko. The families embraced each other, and tears of joy and gratitude were shared.

Lisa Cazzola, a long-time dedicated volunteer and leader at KiDS NEED MoRE, was chosen as this year’s recipient of the Forever 15 Award. The award is in memory of Cassandra Steinle who passed away at 15 years old from the effects of her treatment for leukemia.

Every year, Cassandra’s parents John Steinle III & Eleanore Steinle, along with her brother John Steinle IV, choose an exemplary volunteer of the organization to receive the honor.

party for life
CeeCee Castro, Jaime Pacheco-Milardo & Christian GuardinoPhoto by Ed Shin

The awards were followed by a duet sung by American Idol and America’s Got Talent star Christian Guardino and local sensation CeeCee Castro. Guardino struggles with a rare ocular disorder that would have left him blind were it not for recent advances in medicine. CeeCee is a cancer survivor, KiDS NEED MoRE Camp Adventure camper, and volunteer.

The two singers rocked the house and helped kick off the celebration of life that followed. This included tap dance numbers by the Mills daughters, Aja and Calli, as well as a New York Yankees skit in which donations are tossed into the dance floor and retrieved by the Mills family who do the Seventh Inning Sweep routine. All this was followed by dinner, dancing, and plenty of celebration of life.

The event was streamed on YouTube so that folks all around the world could witness the spectacular, life-changing moments live.

Funds were raised for the KiDS NEED MoRE Camp Adventure program, a sleepaway camp in August for kids coping with cancer and their siblings. The camp is all volunteer run from the medical staff to the counselors and everything is free, including transportation. 

For more information, visit kidsneedmore.org, email [email protected], or call 631-608-3135.

Image 12 Christian Guardino Anthony Murphy Dawn Plantamura
Christian Guardino, Anthony Murphy & Dawn PlantamuraPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 9 Dr. Joseph Mills
Dr. Joseph MillsPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 8 Lisa Cazzola Eleanore Steinle John Steinle IV
Lisa Cazzola, Eleanore Steinle & John Steinle IVPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 7 Melissa Firmes Emilia Debowski Wojtek Debowski
Melissa Firmes, Emilia Debowski & Wojtek DebowskiPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 6 Usher Gay Lisa Cazzola Melissa Firmes John Ray
Usher Gay, Lisa Cazzola, Melissa Firmes & John RayPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 5 Christian Guardino CeeCee Castro
Christian Guardino & CeeCee CastroPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 4 Melissa Firmes Ray Johnny Ray
Melissa Firmes Ray & Johnny RayPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 3 Susan Mateiko Kathy Cripps
Susan Mateiko & Kathy CrippsPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 2 Mary Ann Mills Dr. Joseph Mills Kathy Careccia John Careccia Jeanine Careccia Eddie Orihuela Jacqueline Lorenz Kids Need More Founders Melissa Firmes John Ray
Mary Ann Mills, Dr. Joseph Mills, Kathy Careccia, John Careccia, Jeanine Careccia, Eddie Orihuela, Jacqueline Lorenz, Kids Need More Founders Melissa Firmes & John RayPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 15 24th Annual Party for Life Gala
24th Annual Party for Life GalaPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 14 Meredith Firmes Berry Alice Firmes
Meredith Firmes Berry & Alice FirmesPhoto by Ed Shin
Image 13 Victoria Marie Johnny Ray Donna Carl Son Espo
Victoria Marie, Johnny Ray & Donna Carl Son EspoPhoto by Ed Shin