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.