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Friends Of Karen Opens North Salem Headquarters To Community

Left to right: Outreach Committee members Jackie Holtzer, Lauren Greene, Barbara Jacobi, Diane Anderson, Jackie Holzinger and Maria Bilotta Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Left to right: Friends of Karen staffers Judy Factor, Kristi Hennessey and Diana York. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Attendees and refreshments at Friends of Karen's open house in North Salem on Thursday. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Friends of Karen's headquarters in North Salem. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Siblings Making Art (SMART) boxes on display at Friends of Karen's North Salem headquarters. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A school supplies display for Friends of Karen's back to school program. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. -- Friends of Karen held an open house on a cool Thursday evening at its North Salem headquarters.

The open house, which included a porch gathering and refreshments, was held so people in the community can learn what Friends of Karen does, according to Jackie Holtzer, who is on the outreach committee for the gathering.

Holtzer, who has volunteered at Friends of Karen for about a decade, noted that the open house offers a chance to tour the place, meet the organization's social workers and see its back to school program.

Friends of Karen has a room filled with school supplies for the initiative; several back packs were materials were on display during the open house.

Holtzer said that the organization helps children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses, along with their families.

Among the participants was Lauren Greene, who also served on the outreaching committee and started volunteering at Friends of Karen earlier this year. Greene said she wanted to volunteer because she knew a family that needed its services years ago. While Greene said she was not able to volunteer back then, doing so was of interest to her and she wanted to join when the time was right.

Lisa Dashman, a marketing and developing coordinator for Friends of Karen, said that it was founded in 1978 after Sheila Petersen, a Croton Falls resident, sought to help the organization's namesake, who was a neighboring teenage child. 

Dashman said that Karen, who died from a rare illness called Lafora's Disease, wanted to return home.

"She knew she was really ill,” Dashman said. “She wanted to be with her family and friends.”

A problem that arose during the 1970s, Dashman explained, was that home support was not covered by insurance. 

Petersen offered to help out, Dashman explained, by getting the community together for cash donations and cooking. She subsequently had leftover funds from the initiative, Dashman added, and Karen's family encouraged her to help another children. From there grew Friends of Karen, which helps sick children and families.

Judy Factor, Friends of Karen's executive director, said that it serves 22 counties in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and supports about 650 families per year.

Another initiative on display was Siblings Making Art (SMART), which includes providing art kits for the siblings of sick children. A kit, which is called a SMART box, includes a family journal and a sharing box, according to Dashman, who said that a lot of siblings never thought about using art of being artistic.

“It really helps them to express themselves,” she said.

Friends of Karen's North Salem headquarters is located at 118 Titicus Road. Its website is available here.

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