New York, NY — Friends of Karen is celebrating 40 years of providing emotional, financial and advocacy support for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and their families in order to help keep them stable functioning and able to cope. 

Staffers Beth and Elvira with their friend Carly.

For the past 40 years, Friends of Karen has been the only organization in the New York Tri-State area to provide the in-depth support, at no cost, to families caring for a child battling cancer or another life-threatening illness. Their work has a wide reach, aiding the general population as well as those affiliated with labor, including educators, policemen, and UPS drivers, among others. LaborPress learned more from Nancy Mariano, Regional Director of Friends of Karen, about its founder and its work.

In 1978, 16-year-old Karen MacInnes was terminally ill and hospitalized in New York City for almost a year.  Her parents were traveling 110 miles daily between their Purdys, NY home and the hospital to be with her. Karen wanted to spend her remaining time at home surrounded by those she loved. Despite the overwhelming challenges they faced for her care, her parents brought Karen home. 

Sheila Petersen, a family friend, appealed to the community about the plight of Karen and her family.  Friends and neighbors gave generously to help pay the mounting bills.  After Karen died, her family expressed their wish that Sheila continue to help other families with a catastrophically ill child.  Sheila named her effort Friends of Karen, and used the remaining funds to help another child, and then another…Today, 40 years later, Friends of Karen helps hundreds of ill children and their families every month and to date has helped 15,900 children.

Mariano said, “From Sheila, one woman with a goal, we’re so proud and inspired to now have dedicated supporters, staff- including social workers, child life specialists, and expressive art therapists, and friends that have helped us grow the organization.  With the steadfast support of our donors, large and small, Friends of Karen will have the capacity to offer help, hope and comfort to families overwhelmed by the financial hardships, emotional strains and everyday challenges they face when their child battles a life-threatening illness.”

“Celebrating all we’ve accomplished in 40 years inspires us to look ahead to our next decade of helping even more families who need us.  No family should ever have to face their child’s illness alone, a core belief that remains at the heart of Friends of Karen,” she added.

For more information, contact Nancy Mariano, Regional Director at 631-473-1768 or email


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