WARREN, NJ — Teens for Teens, a Westfield-based, teen-run organization, held its third annual gala on Wednesday at Stonehouse in Stirling Ridge in Warren to benefit Liam’s Room, a non-profit New Jersey-based organization founded by then Westfield residents Lisa and Peter McNamara. The group selects a different charity each year to benefit from its spring gala. Nine local teens, who meet weekly in Westfield, completely organized and ran the event, from creating and putting the programs together to negotiating the deal for the banquet hall.
With fine tablecloths and flowers sitting atop each table, live programming filled with moving speeches and thoughtful performances by teenage entertainers, several in attendance commented that the event seemed as if it were coordinated by a team of professional event planners.
“I am very impressed that this is run and put together by kids,” said Ron Greenberg, a Westfield resident and long- time supporter of Liam’s Room. “When I heard about this gala, I thought it was the parents who were behind this … I had no idea what they accomplished.”
With 280 guests for the evening, through donations, silent auctions, raffles and ticket sales, the event raised an estimated $30,000 that will go directly to Liam’s Room to help families, according organizers.
Liam’s Room was created in loving memory of the McNamara’s son Liam. Liam was born in 2005 and was diagnosed with lissencephaly, a rare brain formation disorder that causes motor issues, impairments to vision and hearing and seizures.
“Before being thrust into the world of caring for a sick child,” said Lisa McNamara during her speech at the benefit on Wednesday, “it never crossed our mind that while we have the most modern technology and science to help our child medically, the basic necessities to care for our family during this time were difficult to find … Not only was the support missing, but the hospital environment was not very conducive to spending time together as a family.”
The McNamaras wanted to create for other families what they did not have for themselves during this very stressful time where they had to balance a family life while at the same time attending to a very ill child. The demands at that time to raise their other children – including Liam’s twin brother — became overwhelming, while they also needed to spend countless hours in a hospital room that was very unhomelike.
Liam’s Room was founded with the goal of creating a hospital room environment for families that felt less institutional and more the type of place that is associated with a comforting feeling.
“Our mission was clear,” McNamara also said in her talk at the gala, “Create a more inpatient space to allow families to spend more quality time together — reinventing the hospital room to function more like a child’s room at home, with the amenities to do so; a private shower, video game system, DVD player, their own fridge, non-industrial furnishings. A place of care and comfort.”
The more research they did, the more their eyes opened to the idea that the concept of pediatric palliative care could be the answer to so many families caring for a child with serious medical issues, she said.
The first family to benefit from Liam’s Room was the Weber family from Scotch Plains. On June 20, 2013, Cole Weber was diagnosed with stage four Burkitt’s lymphoma. After Weber received his first round of chemotherapy, he was admitted to the newly opened Liam’s Room at Morristown Medical Center. He stayed in Liam’s Room for three months. Weber even developed a special bond with Liam, although he never met him — Liam’s pediatric nurse was Weber’s mother.
Now a freshman Union County Community College and cancer-free, Weber spoke to guests about what it was like to stay in Liam’s Room.
“Liam’s Room was large and provided plenty of room for friends and family to visit, which made being confined in the hospital during the summer so much easier. The room had a nice flat screen TV, video games and an awesome variety of movies to help pass the time,” he said. “What made the room so special was the light and beachy décor. It made those four walls feel more like a beach house then a hospital room. I could almost close my eyes and imagine myself at the beach.”
The last speech of the night was given by Mitchell Kelly, a senior at Union County Vocational Technical School, Westfield resident and founder of Teens for Teens. Kelly thanked everyone for being a part of the special evening and ended by saying, “Our hearts have been changed by these charities.”
In addition to frequently contributing to TAP into Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports and the sports editor of Education Update. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.