Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Others are wired to be more reserved. An oversimplification, but the dichotomy exists nonetheless.
Last month at the Garden City Casino during Long Island nonprofit Kids Need More’s (KNM) third annual poker championship—a $300 buy-in tournament where the winner earns a $10,000 seat at the high table of Las Vegas’ World Series of Poker—participants and party guests imbued both types. Celebrating $20,165 being raised for cancer with good food and cocktails while maintaining shrewdness on the felt ensured that. Consensus? A royal flush.
Dedicated to enhancing the lives of children and young adults (as well as their families) coping with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, KNM began in 2013 by husband and wife John Ray and Melissa Firmes, treasurer and president, respectively. Their brave decision to save a camp benefiting kids with cancer—the 1990-established Camp Adventure, which KNM funds to this day—despite having virtually no business acumen, symbolizes the organization’s heart.
“Everything we do is completely free, we have no billing department, and we use an event like the [poker championship] to get the funding to do all these things,” said Ray.
What things? The organization never stops coming up with activities and events for its community. There’s a holiday cheer bus, whereby North Pole-costumed KNM employees embark on a fleet of buses to collect and deliver toys to kids suffering from cancer, a summer day camp at Saddle Rock Ranch (Middle Island), which features therapeutic horseback riding, large parties, petting zoos, bouncy rides, arts and crafts, performers and entertainers, etc., all while providing free door-to-door transportation to accommodate kids with mobility issues, and outreaches like “Hope for Johnathon” and “More Hearts for Joseph,” which provides opportunities for families to connect and create a healing community for families grieving the loss of a child, respectively. There is also an education and leadership initiative, where KNM supports its young people with their career and educational goals, as well as camps like three-day family retreat “Campsgiving” and a sleep away camp, theirs being the first of its kind to serve on Long Island and New York.
But what Ray and Firmes didn’t expect was becoming recipients of their services when the latter was diagnosed with leukemia a year into running KNM.
“I don’t think either of us would have been able to get through all this without the support we get from our Kids Need More family,” Firmes said. “Everything is personal, and if it doesn’t seem like something’s personal, it is. [Cancer] affects everyone personally at some point, you’re going to love somebody that’s been through a serious illness or tragedy. Nobody should feel too far away from it because it’s really there.”
Perhaps nobody is more familiar with the impact KNM’s services has on its community than Thomas Wilk, a childhood cancer survivor who attended Camp Adventure in his formative years. Now, he’s a KNM employee.
“I bought an actual Christmas suit with funky Christmas trees and everything,” a grinning Wilk said as he thought about KNM’s holiday cheer bus.
“Everybody here has been touched by Kids Need More,” Kevin Graham, owner of Tumbling Dice Entertainment, which provided the event’s Atlantic City feel, said. “Personally, there should be double the number of players. [Ray] puts his money where his mouth is, he’s here playing poker, supporting the raffle prizes.”
It’s always personal.
Thanks goes out to the event’s sponsors: The Founders Group at Morgan Stanley, La Bottega, Poker4Life, Life’s Angels, Southampton Kiwanis and Mr. DJ Entertainment. For more information about KNM, visit www.kidsneedmore.org.