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Wantagh Charity Celebrates 20 Years of Helping Children

John Theissen Children's Foundation will host its annual Holiday Gala Thursday evening at Mulcahy's.

At this time last year, poor economic conditions of the Wantagh-based  fun center - a place that brings joy to thousands of sick children each year.

However, thanks to widespread community support, the organization's fun center at 1881 Wantagh Ave., which features an assortment of joyous activities for children battling serious illnesses, was able to remain open. The John Theissen Children's Foundation (JTCF) will celebrate the saving of the fun center and its 20 year-anniversary of helping sick and underprivileged children across Long Island at the charity's annual holiday gala this Thursday night at  in Wantagh. 

"How many children the foundation has been able to help and how much we have covered in the past two decades is just amazing," said JTCF founder John Theissen, a Levittown native and Seaford resident.

At the young age of 17, Theissen was diagnosed with a brain tumor that deprived him of his final years at . During his treatment, he encountered children much younger than him battling the same diagnosis - with no family there to help.

Theissen knew the minute he was healthy he wanted to make a change.

"I started with a holiday toy drive in 1992," he explained. "We collected 800 toys that year. Every holiday season the drive got bigger and bigger."

This year, the foundation is set to distribute 63,000 toys to children in local hospitals.

"Holiday season is most important because some of these kids have nobody, or are stuck in the hospital when they should be enjoying the holidays like most kids," Theissen said of his busiest season. "We want to make sure the ones that need our help are taken care of."

On top of his work during the holiday season, Theissen and his team hold an annual back-to-school drive to provide students with all the necessary items to start the school year off right.

The foundation's fun center is a place Theissen hopes children can go and escape their troubles for the day. Filled with toys, video games and salon stations, the fun center serves at the perfect location for children's birthday parties and special events.

"I think the one thing that means the most to me as we've grown is that in 20 years, we have never said no to a child in need," Theissen said. 

Special guests at the holiday gala, Theissen's largest fundraising event of the year, will include famed news anchor Jill Nicolini, former New York Yankees Mickey Rivers and Graig Nettles, Real Housewives star and Wantagh native Cindy Barshop, former New York Knick John Starks and Mike TV actor Paris Themmen.

"I hope the gala brings in the funds that are needed to continue to help the kids," Theissen said. "As most people know, I gave out and did more than I was budgeted for, so now we need to get those funds."

This story is featured as part of the Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" series.

Robert Demarco November 29, 2011 at 03:05 PM
This is a wonderful organization, with low administrative expenses, that really helps sick and underprivileged children. I have known John since he began his foundation, and this charity is worthy of your support.
Andrew Coen November 29, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Thanks for the comment Robert. Hopefully the holiday gala brings a huge crowd Thursday!
Sandra Bedell December 28, 2011 at 04:21 PM
john Theissan is one of the most powerful unselfish caring responsible man/ human that I have had the pleasure to meet and any award belongs to his organization or ones like it, He is truly changing one life at a time while he manages his own life-threatening challenges. He's a real inspiration. Sandra Bedell
Robert Demarco December 28, 2011 at 08:42 PM
I have known John since he started doing this from his lawn, and you are absolutely correct. John never says no, even if the task is challenging. I worked for an organization that provided homecare to sick and indigent children, and JTCF provided Christmas gifts to about 200 children and their siblings, most of whom would not have received a gift had it not been for John and his wonderful volunteers. John deserves all the support that can be provided.

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