Memorial Sloan-Kettering

In 1983, The Greek Children’s Fund was established at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to meet the needs of the growing number of Greek-speaking patients treated at the Center.

The Fund was established by Mr. Stanley Matthews, a Greek-American businessman in New Jersey, after an experience in his own family made him acutely aware of the many problems faced by families in this situation. He continues to be the driving force behind this program and is an inspiration to all those involved. The program is administered by the Department of Social Work at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and is supported by corps of very dedicated volunteers, the Greek Children’s Fund committee. This group of 30 individuals, all volunteers, works tirelessly to no only coordinate all fundraising efforts for the program, but also to organize social events for the children and their families, to provide all sorts of assistance as needed, and to work closely with the hospital in the day-to-day administration and development of the program.

During its existence, the Fund has assisted more than 6,000 patients and provided financial assistance in excess of $6,000,000. A diagnosis of cancer is a very traumatic event in and of itself. The anxiety of many of these families is heightened since they must travel to a foreign land, do not speak the language, are in unfamiliar surroundings and are cut off from their family and support network when they need it most. These patients have to struggle to meet the day-to-day expenses of living in New York City, for years at a time in many cases. Greek-Americans face many problems as well since they often do not speak English very well, may not have adequate insurance or, as one quarter of Americans in general, may not have any insurance coverage at all. They also have to struggle to pay the many additional expenses required when receiving treatment for an extended period of time, such as transportation costs to and from the hospital, home care, equipment, ambulances, etc. Patients such as these face enormous obstacles in receiving adequate health care.

The Greek Children’s Fund was established to help address these many problems. Mr. Matthews began his struggle with the support of his family and the Department of Social Work at Memorial Hospital. The Fund began by providing limited financial assistance to those children and their families in particular need. As the Fund grew, with the support of the Greek-American community, it became apparent that the patients’ needs were more complex than simply financial. The Department of Social Work provides quick referral services for incoming patients, saving them precious time. They assist them with obtaining proper documentation for submission to their insurance companies so they will not have to worry about medical costs. The team meets with the families upon their arrival at the hospital, assists them in communicating with staff, provides vital information about their disease and treatment and helps them maneuver within a complex and unfamiliar health care system. In addition, they provide counseling on dealing with a diagnosis of cancer and the major upheaval this creates in their lives. The social worker assists those families from abroad with obtaining housing near the hospital. They must make the referral to the Ronald McDonald House for pediatric patients, and assist adult patients with finding temporary housing, providing financial assistance as needed. Social workers also work closely with the members of the Greek Children’s Fund committee and other community groups to sponsor outings for these families. These activities provide a much needed break from the routines of treatment and the day-to-day anxiety of fighting a life threatening illness.

In addition, to these vital referral and psychosocial services, the main goal of the Greek Children’s Fund is to provide financial assistance. In the past, the Fund has provided psychosocial support and education to those children and their families in need while they are receiving treatment at Memorial Hospital. It currently funds a bilingual patient advocate. The Fund pays the $20 per night fee at the Ronald McDonald House for the families. The GCF provides subsidies for food and transportation expenses, a monthly living stipend for the patients and their families, as well as rental and/or purchase of equipment, etc. The average stay of a pediatric patient from Greece is one year, but can often be longer, therefore, this assistance is vital to many of these families. Most of the Greek-speaking pediatric patients are from Greece and their needs are complex and varied.

Unfortunately, our task is becoming ever more difficult. Cancer is on the increase worldwide, and more and more young people are diagnosed with this disease. Each year, we see more and more children from Greece who come to Memorial Hospital for treatment that would otherwise be unavailable to them in Greece.

In addition to the increase of cases, insurance companies and governments are cutting back on coverage in all areas, putting an increasing burden on the patients and philanthropic organizations. Your support is vital and can make the crucial difference as these young patients battle for their lives.