THROUGH RAFFLES, TIP CUP DONATIONS, AND OTHER GRASSROOTS EFFORTS, THIS STATEN ISLAND MOTORCYCLE CLUB IS HELPING SIUH BUILD ITS COMPREHENSIVE CANCER CENTER

BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY

Members of the Cornerstones Chapter of the Widows Sons Masonic Riders Association are undoubtedly tough. They share an interest in motorcycles, favor leather vests and sturdy riding boots, and wear a winged pyramid patch on their shoulders and back. But when the officers of this Staten Island based fraternal organization visited Staten Island University Hospital’s Radiation Oncology Center two years ago to tour its pediatric cancer treatment unit, their tough exterior suffered a notable hit.

“There were children, probably no more than five or six years old, receiving chemotherapy and it was just heart wrenching,” noted Danny Calemine, one of the group’s founding members. “I’m retired from the NYPD, and I’ve seen a lot of things in my life, but to witness these poor kids going through something so big they looked frightened, they looked sad, and it tore our hearts out.”

So, Calemine and his Freemason brothers, who were touring SIUH to assess the hospital’s developing plans for a comprehensive cancer center and its pediatric counterpart, began formulating a plan.

“We’re not an extremely large group,” he said. “I knew we weren’t capable of dropping off a $100,000 check, but sometimes even the smallest donations can amount to a lot. So all of our members just hit the ground running.”

Including organizing a motorcycle raffle and placing donation cups in delis and bakeries across the borough, club members started spreading the word about SIUH’s pediatric cancer efforts. Gradually, the $10 raffle tickets it sold started adding up. In December of last year, the Cornerstones presented SIUH with a $10,000 check every penny allocated for the new children’s cancer center.

Ambassador SPREAD

“We’re so happy to know that these kids will soon have their own dedicated space while they’re undergoing treatment,” Calemine said, detailing the three additional pediatric infusion chairs that will be featured in SIUH’s new Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is slated for completion in 2021. “We will do anything we can to contribute to that effort and help the hospital reach its goal.”

SIUH’s $35 million cancer center, on which work began last June, will bring all adult, pediatric, and radiation oncology patients to a centralized facility to help streamline care and improve the patient experience. The pediatric space will feature a child focused design meant to reduce stress for its young patients. The project is being funded through the hospital’s operations budget as well as fundraising efforts through the Florina Rusi Marke Foundation, but donations large and small are welcome from individuals and groups like the Widows Sons.

“We’re willing to do whatever is necessary to raise money for this cause,” Calemine said.

No strangers to charitable work, the Widows Sons Cornerstones have been raising money for a variety of causes for the past several years. In addition to volunteering time and money at local running races, golf outings, and galas, the 501(c)(3) has been contributing funds to the Shriners Children’s Hospital since 2013. The organization recently reached out to SIUH because its members wanted to focus their efforts on a cause a little closer to home.

“Even though we know our fundraisers for Shriners were useful and appreciated, we wanted to concentrate our efforts locally,” Calemine said, noting that the group’s money was being filtered to the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia. “We’re all Staten Island and Brooklyn guys, and we really wanted to make a difference right here in our own backyard.”

Tom Durbin, the group’s current president, agreed. “I’ve had numerous family members affected by cancer; I think all of our members have been touched by this disease in some way, shape, or form,” he said. “And this is our hospital, this is where our families and neighbors turn to when they are sick or in need. So it was extremely important for us to support the organization that helps the community in which we live.”

The Widows Sons organization, which takes its name from a Masonic distress call (“Who would help the widow’s son?”), is built on the principles of helping others. The worldwide organization is more than 20 years old and has active chapters in 47 states and 30 countries. The Cornerstones NYC chapter, which was launched eight years ago, is one of three Widows Sons chapters in New York State.

The club is currently committed to raising a pledged amount for SIUH, though it’s a goal they hope to surpass. An annual event is still in its infancy, and the group’s officers hope the setting they choose will boost the hospital’s resources.

“This Cancer Center is truly needed here on Staten Island,” Durbin said. “Children who are going through such a major ordeal should have an area of the hospital reserved for them, a place that is dedicated just for their use and comfort. That’s what we’re focusing on every time we’re out there collecting money. What in the world could be more important?”

The group’s motto? “Help us help those in need.”

“When we say we’re a not for profit, we really mean it,” Calemine added. “Every penny we collect goes straight to this effort. We stand behind Staten Island University Hospital 100 percent. Their goal is to treat borough patients with kindness and compassion, offering all of the latest medical innovations so that no one suffering from cancer especially a child has to travel far from home. And we’re going to help them achieve that goal every way we possibly can.”

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