BATAVIA — For Amy Velez and her family, this year’s Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation Gala was a chance to say “Thank you.”
Amy Velez who was a guest speaker at Saturday’s fundraiser at Terry Hills Country Club, was there with her husband, Matthew, and the oldest son, Thomas, 21, was diagnosed in 2018 with an intercranial germinoma, described radiology resource Radiopaedia.org as a type of germ cell tumors predominantly seen in pediatric populations. The family, of Amherst, receive funding on two different occasions from the Memorial Foundation.
“Everyone at the gala was very warm and receptive. Many had tears in their eyes or cried while I was talking. There were many “cancer moms” in the audience who came up to me afterwards and expressed how much they identified with what I said,” she recalled.
Velez said Saturday was the first time she and her husband attended the gala.
“We would love to attend the gala again. It was an evening filled with hope, generosity, and love,” Amy Velez said Sunday. “I was so grateful and touched to be asked to speak at the gala. I was able to publicly thank the foundation for all they have done for my family and other families going through similar circumstances. The foundation is filled with people with golden, servant hearts who embraced my family with kindness and compassion.”
The Memorial Foundation was established in 2007 in memory of Michael C. Napoleone, 8, son of Mark and Laurie Napoleone, who passed away the previous year from Burkitt’s Lymphoma/Leukemia, an aggressive form of blood cancer.
Laurie Napoleone said this year’s gala was the most successful one out of the nine the foundation has had. There were 230 who bought tickets to attend the sold-out event.
“We have a number of fundraisers during the event. We have a silent auction, a Chinese action, a live auction, a basket raffle… We had a Josh Allen helmet and Josh Allen jersey autographed. There was a lot of stuff that we had. We’re really grateful we had a lot of local businesses donate prizes.
“The Derby Day gala always makes more money than our other fundraisers. It’s a fun event for a really good cause. It’s consistent with the foundation’s mission. It helps families with pediatric cancer — childhood cancer. It supports youth grants and also supports research,” she said. “We haven’t had it since COVID — prior to that, about eight years.”
Aside from Velez, Memorial Foundation Vice President Jeff Klips spoke about the Memorial Foundation’s Heroes for Hope Campaign. The other guest speakers were Joe and Jacquie Morgante.
“It was our mostly successful year. On Sept. 24, we’re doing Links & Drinks (a golf event) at Terry Hills,” Laurie Napoleone said.
Amy Velez said she met Laurie Napoleone in late 2019, when Napoleone’s daughter, Christen, introduced them.
“The moment I met Laurie, our souls connected. It’s something hard to explain, but she instantly understood me and offered empathy in a way only another mama who’s walked this road could. It’s a club you don’t want anyone to be a part of — the ‘cancer mom club’ — and when you meet another girl in the club, your heart cries out to each other without words ever being spoken,” Velez said during her speech Saturday. “But that evening (of their meeting), Laurie reached out and offered help, without condition. Help — that even she may not have known how much we needed it at that specific time. And the foundation helped us, quickly, not once but twice- when Thomas had his recurrence, the foundation reached out to us yet again.”
Velez recalled opening one of the envelopes with a check from the Memorial Foundation and crying many happy tears of gratitude.
“I sobbed and sobbed. That check helped our family in so many ways at the exact moment we needed it most,” she said.
On Sunday, she told The Daily News she didn’t know what the Memorial Foundation would send or when, but was never really worried about that, since the Memorial Foundation encouraged the family to apply for funding.
Did you expect to get a check from the foundation when you filled out the application? If I may ask, how much did you get?
“They were so kind and compassionate to continue to press us to apply that we felt grateful for the opportunity. They sent something in the mail not once, but twice.” she said. “The first check came in 2019. We were monitoring him after radiation and things like that. He was still within his treatment, but after the diagnosis.”
The second time they received something was when Thomas had a recurrence of the tumor in 2021, carrying into 2022. He had had his third brain surgery in September 2021, his mother said.
Amy Velez said her son’s scans have remained clear of any medical issues and that the family is praying that continues.
“His next scan is, ironically enough, on Wednesday,” she said. “When people came up to me afterwards (after her speech Saturday) … they just had said, ‘What you said echoed true for us as well,’ and ‘Thank you for sharing.'”
While speaking Saturday at the gala, Velez said she would never forget the evening she met Laurie Napoleone.
“As we spoke, Christen and Laurie told me about their foundation. They told me about their journey and how they give back. They encouraged me to fill out the application. And this is an important point — they offered outreach,” she told the audience. “When you’re traveling the road of caring for your sick baby, while also trying to keep your family afloat, you have no idea what to ask for or what help you need. And IF you do know, it could be basic stuff like groceries or gas money and to be honest, the words may not ever pass your lips…”