THE SIUH FOUNDATION TEAMED WITH STAND-UP LEGEND AND 30 ROCK STAR TRACY MORGAN FOR A NIGHT OF LAUGHTER, MIRTH, AND PHILANTHROPY AT THE FABLED ST. GEORGE THEATRE, RAISING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR PEDIATRIC CANCER
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY SAL PAVIA
Brahim Ardolic, MD, couldn’t believe it when he was told actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was interested in having dinner with him and the leaders of Staten Island University Hospital. The former Saturday Night Live cast member and father of four is one Hollywood’s leading supporters of children’s charities, and after SIUH board member James Halpin and Sal Rusi Jr. made a connection, Morgan wanted to meet.
“The moment Tracy walked into the restaurant, he said he wanted to do a fundraiser,” said Dr. Ardolic, executive director of SIUH. “The thing that really struck me about him was how passionate he was about raising money for children. It was moving to see how much he wanted to do something for someone else. He made it clear up front that he would not be charging us; at one point, he motioned toward his manager and said ‘I don’t care what this guy says, we are doing this.’ [laughs]”
The dinner was in early January, and by the time the dessert course was served, a date for the benefit had been set: April 28
“I’ve worked with celebrities in the past, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” continued Dr. Ardolic. “He asked what month worked for us, then pulled out a calendar and said, ‘Can you work around these tour dates?’ He was insistent upon doing this show, and wouldn’t leave until we set a date. It held that level of importance to him.”
From there, the SIUH Foundation went to work planning the Tracy Morgan: “Laughter is the Best Medicine” Benefit Show, a stand-up comedy production with multiple performers, featuring new material from the Emmy nominee’s 2022 tour. SIUH was able to secure a venue as revered as the headliner himself: the Island’s iconic St. George Theatre, the magnificent, nearly century-old performing arts venue located one block from the Staten Island Ferry. The theater had long been a partner of SIUH, but the benefit would be the hospital’s first event hosted in the historic space.
On April 28, a nearly sold-out crowd funneled into the hallowed 1,900-seat theater, with all proceeds benefiting the Pediatric Cancer Center at SIUH. Per Morgan’s initial conversation with Dr. Ardolic and John Demoleas, executive director of the SIUH Foundation, he didn’t ask for a single dime of compensation. But the comedian wasn’t alone in his enthusiasm for contributing to the cause; a myriad of Staten Island businesses also signed up to donate their time and talents.
“When people found out Tracy was donating, they felt inspired to give as well,” noted Demoleas. “It was so special to see the community come together for the cause.”
The famed Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern of Port Richmond along with Marie’s Gourmet supplied the food, while sweet tooths were satiated with desserts from Violette’s Cellar, an ardent supporter of the hospital’s cancer research endeavors. Local brewery Kills Boro donated craft beer, and SIUH board member James Halpin personally provided the red wine. The culinary teams from Tottenville High School and Port Richmond Culinary served the food and facilitated both preand post-party cleanup. It was a collective community effort, noted Dr. Ardolic, and because of the event’s uncharacteristically low overhead costs, 90% of the $250,000 raised went directly to the cancer center.
“An event of this magnitude would typically cost between $75,000 to $125,000 to execute, but because of Tracy, St. George’s Theatre, and donations from the community, our costs were incredibly low,” said Dr. Ardolic. “As a result, such a large portion of the money we raised went directly toward pediatric cancer. The event itself was phenomenal. We received an amazing response from the Staten Island community and our internal community at SIUH. Right down to the last minute, there were walk-up lines. People including Tracy arrived early and stayed late. Tracy and his fellow comedians were blown away by the beauty of the theater.”
As Dr. Ardolic explained, the benefit’s success extended far beyond the dollars raised. Since its inception in 2006, the SIUH Foundation has been steadfastly committed to building philanthropic relationships throughout the borough and beyond to support the highest level of care on Staten Island and build programs that rival the world’s most elite hospitals. Through a combination of gifts, endowments, and fundraising initiatives, the foundation raises millions of dollars each year to support the hospital’s various programs, and executing a benefit show of this size and significance shows promise for the future of large-scale charity events in the borough.
“In Staten Island, our nonprofit organizations and children’s charities deserve the best, and as a community, we deserve the highest level of care,” continued Dr. Ardolic. “If we want to continue building the types of programs we want, we need to have the same level of philanthropy as these hospitals in Manhattan and Philadelphia. We do have the ability to do these high-level events and activities. We can bring in incredible talent and sell out a large theater. This was such an important cultural moment; a culmination of hard work by a lot of people.”
Morgan was born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, but according to Dr. Ardolic, he has been knighted an honorary Staten Islander, and his gift to the community and the Pediatric Cancer Center lives on in ink.
“We had not told Tracy this before the show, but we made a decision to put his name on one of the rooms in the Pediatric Cancer Center,” said Dr. Ardolic. “We made a plaque that will be placed on the outside of the room, and we presented it to him on stage at the end of the show. It was an emotional moment for everyone. He is a part of this family now.”
SIUH’s fight against Pediatric Cancer:
or contact Jamie Lynn Homan, JHoman2@northwell.edu