NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–On December 19, 2015, Embrace Kids Foundation invited 600 children and family members to a Star Wars themed holiday party with food, gifts, and over 40 volunteers from local Lucas Film Limited Costumed Charity Organizations who dressed up in character and entertained the children.

Embrace Kids Foundation, started by a group of parents and professionals connected to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital over 20 years ago, works to “lighten the burden, maintain normalcy and improve the quality of life for families whose children are facing cancer, sickle cell, and other serious health challenges.”

The organization originally started out as a simple way to make lives easier for families at the RWJ pediatric unit by providing basics such as rolls of quarters for laundry or some small snacks. Now, Embrace Kids has grown to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in programs, events, and financial aid. They have six full-time staff members, and over 2,000 volunteers.

In addition to the annual holiday party, Embrace Kids Foundation organizes several other events to entertain the children and help build a community. In November Embrace Kids ran two multi-hundred family Thanksgiving events, including a Thanksgiving Day lunch that included every person who works in Robert Wood Johnson’s pediatric programs.

“We love events here at Embrace Kids,” said Director Glenn Jenkins. “We had Halloween. We’ll be having Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras. We’re looking for an excuse to have a fun party for kids.”

Every year, Embrace Kids Foundation supports 100 patient families through their Intensive Support program. This program provides family counseling, financial support, community programming, and other services. Embrace Kids also works with another 100 families that are phasing out of the program by providing them with one or two of the support programs. Beyond that, many children and families are invited to the large events, such as holiday parties and picnics, which are organized yearly.

One groundbreaking program that Embrace Kids created is the Pediatric Palliative Care program. This program “provides major gifts and funding to RWJ children’s hospital so that the children’s hospital can then send nurses from the pediatric oncology floor out to families homes to provide home health care,” said Jenkins.

Typically, when children with serious illnesses receive home health care, it is from an outside agency or an unfamiliar face that has to learn the child’s wants, needs, and personality. With this Embrace Kids program, Glenn Jenkins says “you have the same people and the same nurses that have taken care of these kids in the hospital are now able to take care of them at home.”

Embrace Kids Foundation works tirelessly to cultivate the relationship between Rutgers University and the community in a way that is beneficial to both parties. Every Spring, Rutgers students participate in Dance Marathon, a 24-hour dancing charity event with 800 dancers and over 500 volunteers, donates all the proceeds to Embrace Kids. This event has been happening for 17 years, and last year it raised $680,000.

Various student groups such as Greek Life organizations, community service groups, multicultural organizations, and other volunteers organize and run the event. In addition to Dance Marathon, student organizations can participate in the RU for Kids program where they adopt a family and help them with whatever needs arise.

In addition to all of the work Embrace Kids Foundation does for children with cancer, the organization also works to improve the quality of life for children with blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

“Blood disorders are genetic,” said Jenkins. “So it’s a matter of managing the illness. There’s no cure for a blood disorder. It’s just managing it down to its least difficult set of complications”

1/3 of families that receive assistance from Embrace Kids have children with blood disorders. Jenkins says that sickle cell patients are an extremely underserved population, and that to combat the lack of resources Embrace Kids decided to run their own major campaigns. They are now known as one of the leading charity organizations that deal with blood disorders in New Jersey.

Currently two NFL players and Rutgers University Alum, Devin & Jason McCourty, are working with Embrace Kids Foundation to bring awareness to sickle cell anemia. The brothers will be at a casino night fundraiser on Saturday, February 20th, from 7-10 PM at the Recruiting Pavilion at Highpoint Solutions Stadium. Other Rutgers University Football Alum are scheduled to attend the event and interact with the attendees. 100% of the funds raised will benefit “the pediatric and young adult sickle cell programs at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of NJ.” Before the casino night fundraiser, there will be a blood drive held from 10:00 AM- 3:30 PM at RWJ hospital.

The Embrace Kids Foundation works tirelessly to improve the quality of life for children with cancer and blood disorders and their families. Through simple gestures such as a gift card to the grocery store and a hug, to larger events such as the holiday party or Dance Marathon, Embrace Kids always has the children’s best interests at heart.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering or donating can email [email protected] or call 732-247-5300

Reporter at New Brunswick Today