Niskayuna family benefits from effort to help seriously ill children
NISKAYUNA For Kevin and Michelle Paige, a trip to Disney World seemed out of the question 18 months ago, when their son Aidan was diagnosed with leukemia.
But with the help of Baking Memories 4 Kids, the Niskayuna family will be hanging out with Mickey Mouse in March.
“He was thrilled,” said Michelle Paige of Aidan, who is now 4. “He watches Mickey Mouse on TV and he knows who Mickey is.”
In July 2012, Aidan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a treatable form of leukemia. Although curable, Aidan must undergo 42 months of chemotherapy.
He is now a little more than a year into treatment and, according to his mother, it has not only taken a toll on Aidan, but on his four siblings.
“That’s the hardest part,” she said. “Not being able to take away his pain.”
That’s where Frank Squeo, founder of Baking Memories 4 Kids, comes in. He saw Aidan’s story on the local news while spending time with his goddaughter, who is from Niskayuna and is familiar with Aidan’s family. Squeo, a cancer survivor himself, asked Michelle Paige to give him a call. The rest is history.
“[After getting cancer] you start to think of the bigger picture,” Squeo said. “Everything in life happens for a reason, and I have always thought that.”
Squeo, who lives just outside New York City, became well-known for his homemade cookies. Having experienced firsthand the toll cancer treatments can have on patients and their families, he decided to use his baking talent to help families with sick children. Three years ago, Squeo founded Baking Memories 4 Kids, a nonprofit, charitable organization designed to become a memory-maker for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
All of the cookie sales go to funding all-expense-paid Florida vacations for families like Aidan’s. So far, Baking Memories 4 Kids has sent one family to Disney World and Squeo plans to send Aidan and his family, as well as another family, early next year.
Squeo sells cookies from Nov. 1 to late December. The money he raises during that time determines how many families he can send the following year. This cookie season, Squeo and his baking helpers made more than 120,000 cookies and raised enough to send 11 more families to Florida in 2014. The families stay in Give Kids the World Village, a resort near all of Orlando’s main attractions that provides a magical vacation for children with life-threatening illnesses, their siblings and parents.
According to Squeo, one dollar of every cookie order also goes to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I just want them to go there and not to think about treatments, not to think about the illness,” he said. “Just go there and create amazing memories for the rest of their lives.”
Squeo said Aidan’s family really touched him and he is thankful he can provide them with the trip.
“Just enjoy each other,” he said of his wish for the family, “and forget about all they are going through,”
He hopes the vacation allows some much-needed rest for Aidan’s parents, fun for his supportive siblings and, of course, fun for Aidan.
“He is full of life. He is such a great, great kid, very animated,” Squeo said. “They will have these videos and stories and pictures five, 10, 20 years down the road. It is so much more than just making cookies.”
Michelle Paige agrees.
“It is just something we are all really looking forward to,” she said, “just a chance to let the kids be kids and not have to worry.”
With the help of the local fire department, Squeo presented the vacation to the Paige family at their home in Niskayuna on Dec. 19. With an armful of balloons and a Mickey Mouse doll, the dream vacation became a reality.
Michelle Paige said she can’t thank Squeo enough.
“He has really made a difference,” she said. “Hopefully, we will pay it forward somehow.”