Emily Sullivan and Gianna Tantillo first met in preschool and have been friends ever since. Emily loves sports and Gianna is a dancer, but the two New York teenagers have joined volunteer forces to pursue their shared passion for health as they serve sick kids in need.
As volunteers with KiDS NEED MoRE, an organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of children, families and young adults coping with cancer and life-threatening illness, Gianna and Emily are giving back to children on Long Island and beyond. Leading initiatives including Fit For A Cause and Toys For A Cause, the two are doubling their impact through service to better the lives of children in need.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Emily: We saw a social media post from KiDS NEED MoRE in 2017 about a child who had cancer and we decided we wanted to get involved. Both of us intend to go into the medical field, so this was a perfect way to get involved and to help people. Volunteerism has always been a big part of who we are.
Gianna: Honestly, these kids have really tough lives at such a relatively young age. Spending so much time with them and seeing what they go through, it’s an indescribable feeling to brighten their day with such little gestures.
Describe your volunteerism with KiDS NEED MoRE.
We volunteer with KiDS NEED MoRE at various events and also attend their annual summer camp as volunteer counselors. We also host annual events that benefit the organization, including:
- Fit For A Cause: We serve as co-presidents of this initiative. We’ve raised more than $10,000 from this annual fitness event since 2018, those funds going to the summer camp experience for over 180 children.
- Toys For A Cause: We lead this toy drive during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September to benefit the Kids Need More Holiday Cheer Bus. We put donation boxes around schools in our district and have collected more than 1,500 toys to donate to children across Long Island thus far. We’ve received significant support from our school district to be able to achieve our goals.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
Gianna: Our first year volunteering at summer camp, I met one of the youngest campers, a little girl around 3. She wouldn’t do any activities with the group, she just clung to me all day. We eventually got this little girl to interact with other kids her age, and seeing her grow up over the now three summers I’ve volunteered has been a really cool experience. She is doing great now and attended virtual camp this summer. Many kids like us get to live these lives where we don’t have a lot of responsibility and we take things for granted. Being able to give this girl a carefree childhood experience rather than the everyday struggles she and her family were going through really put things into perspective for me.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Emily: It’s important to volunteer because of the feeling you get from serving others. Everyone always says at the holidays, ‘the gift of giving is better than receiving.’ That’s true in all walks of life. That feeling you get from knowing you’re making a difference in someone else’s life is such a great reward.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Gianna: Little gestures mean more than you could ever possibly imagine. Doing something small can make someone’s whole week, especially because of what these kids are experiencing on a daily basis. The butterfly effect is a very real thing and little gestures can end up having a major impact on someone’s life.
How have you continued to volunteer throughout the pandemic?
Emily: Because these children have compromised immune systems, we had to transform summer camp into online summer camp, which we called Camp with Space. Even though it wasn’t in person, we were able to still connect with kids, and include even more camp attendees than usual. We plan to host a socially distanced Fit For A Cause this spring.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your volunteerism?
Gianna: Service has always been a part of my family and growing up. It’s important to give back to the community, and It’s rewarding for us to take initiative and make that difference. I hope to continue volunteering for as long as I can.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
When you’re not busy with school or volunteering, what do you do for fun?
Gianna: I hang out with my friends. I also am very big into dance. I dance on my school and out of school teams.
Emily: I love hanging out with friends. I am also super big into sports like volleyball, snowboarding and surfing.
How can readers help?
Please visit the KiDS NEED MoRE website for more information on how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Emily Sullivan and Gianna Tantillo? Find local volunteer opportunities.