“My mom was my best friend. She put everyone’s needs before her own. I did not really understand that until I was 13, during my mom’s last few months of breast cancer, and after she was gone.” 17-year-old emcee, Ilyssa, shared with the 287 guests at Good Grief’s 9th Annual Gala, Magical Masquerade on Wednesday, October 16th. Ilyssa’s twin brother, Aaron, shared the stage with her “After my mom died, my entire family’s life changed forever; we all had to adapt in different ways. I always wanted to appear unbroken. The masks I wore around others allowed me to attempt to live a life that, at least in my mind, was as normal as I could control. Over time, I became more emotionless as I couldn’t keep up the façade that I was okay. Looking back, I realize that I was not able to cope with my loss on my own.”
The theme of “unmasking children’s grief” was set by Good Grief’s CEO, Joe Primo, in his opening words: “Thanks to research and 15 years of experience at Good Grief, we now understand grief in a much larger context as an opportunity for growth and building resilience. It is my hope that you will agree that we all must do better for grieving children by putting aside our discomfort around death. That we must build a more resilient future by investing in Good Grief’s children. There are no masks here.”
The guests of Magical Masquerade enthusiastically got behind this call to action, raising $400,000 of much needed funds for Good Grief’s mission to build resilient children, strengthen families, and empower communities to grow from loss and adversity. Good Grief provides free programs to more than 750 children each month at its Morristown, Princeton, Newark, and Jersey City locations, while advocating for bereaved families across the U.S. and educating classrooms on how to build emotional and physical resilience.
Good Grief’s programs are free of charge, and there is no limit on the amount of time families can participate in the programs. All funds raised at Magical Masquerade support the delivery of Good Grief’s free and unlimited Night of Support programs, Grief Expressions Summer Camp, In-Community satellite programs in Jersey City and Newark, and Good Grief’s groundbreaking new Routes to Resilience curriculum.
The dynamic program for the masquerade themed event mirrored Ilyssa and Aaron’s story of strength through adversity, resilience, and hope. 13-year-old emcee, Rylie, bravely told the guests “No one ever wants to feel like they have to wear a mask, but that is what we force people to do when we try to make them feel and act differently. A mask means you can’t ever be yourself.” Evidence of success for Good Grief’s programs were found in Rylie’s heartfelt words, “At Good Grief, I can be happy when I want to be happy, or cry if I am sad or upset. No one expects anything out of me. I can be myself.”
While the topic of children losing a parent or sibling is somber, the evening was not. 10 Good Grief kids added to the magic of event by welcoming guests into the ballroom, cheering on the CEO and guests during the Fund a Need portion of the night, and introducing the Community Star Honoree.
John Crowley, Chairman and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, was this year’s Community Star Honoree. John Crowley has a firsthand understanding of the importance of Good Grief’s work with grieving children and families. At just 7-years old, he experienced the death of his father, an Englewood, NJ police officer. As an adult, Mr. Crowley faced the very real possibility of becoming a grieving parent because he and his wife Aileen were raising two children living with Pompe disease. This reality caused John and Aileen to become remarkable advocates for their children, as they realized the importance of each moment and the potential impact a loss could have on their family.
This loss is one that 17-year-old emcee, Ilyssa knows all too well. “Being twins with Aaron, most people assume that he and I have the exact same problems and react the same way from the death of our mom. In reality, we have experienced the same event, and have similar, but different and unique reactions. Good Grief allows Aaron and me to be different, and allows each of us to have a voice,” Ilyssa said proudly. The evening left guests in high spirits, giving grieving children a chance to be seen and heard.
Magical Masquerade was a huge success due to the support of its volunteer planning committee and Good Grief’s corporate partners. The Gala Committee included chair Sara Caldwell, Cindy Clark, Conor Dolan, Jeanette Falotico, Shelly Haley, Karen Hayes, Susie Leonard, Robyn Lyons, Amy Matthews, Gena Pogorzelski, Maryann Reilly, Cassie Savage, and Roxane Yonan. Presenting Partners for the event included Celgene, Private Advisor Group, Amicus Therapeutics, Atlantic Health System, JBK Associates International, and Terabyte Consulting. Event Supporters included Access Self Storage, AmeriHealth NJ, Crum & Forster Insurance, Cushman & Wakefield, Don and Joyce Hofmann, Sanofi, and Strawn Arnold & Associates.
Good Grief is respected as a national leader in delivering grief services to children and their families. It is the leading provider of these services in New Jersey serving over 1,000 children since its founding in 2004. Good Grief is a registered 501(c) (3) tax-exempt non-profit organization whose mission is to provide unlimited free support to children, teens and families after the death of a parent or sibling. Serving 165 communities, we operate programs in Morristown, Princeton, Jersey City, and Newark. For more information about Good Grief, please visit our web site www.good-grief.org.