More than 300 people gathered at the Lemont Restaurant in support of the 2015 Lending Hearts Gala.  The event which began in 2013, was an opportunity for supporters to gather once again and celebrate another year working to enhance the lives of children diagnosed with cancer.   KDKA’s Director of Sports Mr. Bob Pompeani served as emcee for the evening, while guests enjoyed a fabulous meal, wonderful auction items and could reflect on the many accomplishments made in the last year.  From a successful 2014 Kites take Flight for Childhood Cancer Event to a program providing lunches to the 9th Floor of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, this non-profit has the energy and passion to match its’ heart.

Lending Hearts facilitates free services for children battling and recovering from cancer.  After a child is diagnosed with cancer, there is such a loss of control for these children in their day to day world.  Being in an unfamiliar environment, new medicines and treatments, and changes to appearance such as hair loss or weight gain often create anxiety.  Combine that with the fact school-age children are often unable to attend school for some period of time; the loss of social outlets, connection to friends, and play activities in their life, it can leave many children feeling overwhelmed and depressed. No one knows this better than the first Lending Hearts Friend Award Recipient and 2015 Gala Sponsor UPMC’s Dr. Stanley Marks. “As an oncologist I know too well the difficulty of keeping patients’ ‘hearts’ in the fight during the darkest days of their lives,” says Marks. “Lending Hearts is already accomplishing that for so many.”

By providing emotional and social support for children battling cancer, Lending Hearts acts a springboard for creating new friendships, moral support and camaraderie with other children going through the same experiences. Events are centered around arts, culture, health, wellness & education, in partnership with many local companies and agencies such as the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, The Pittsburgh Opera, The Pittsburgh Symphony, The Gateway Clipper and University of Pittsburgh to name a few. Their tag line, “enhancing, enriching, embracing the lives of kids with cancer” is achieved by ‘lending hands’ that create memorable experiences, new friendships and most importantly, a sense of normalcy for these children.

The 2015 Lending Hearts Award recipients were chosen as individuals who ‘lend their hearts’ to others in need of compassion and understanding in the fight against cancer.  The Lending Hearts Friend Award was presented to retired Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive end Aaron Smith by Former Steeler & ESPN Analyst Merrill Hoge.    As a father of a child recovering from cancer, Smith is all too familiar with the struggles facing the child and their family battling this disease. Smith’s son, Elijah, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in October 2008 at the age of 4.

The Lending Hearts Ambassador Award was presented to Sydne Ballengee, a Mt. Lebanon Middle Schooler, who has played a vital role in networking for the organization in her local community. “Continuing to make an impact on the lives of many families around me is an incredible honor and I am extremely fortunate to be a team member of Lending Hearts,” said Sydne.

Founder Vasso Paliouras is excited to be kicking off 2015 with so much support from the local community. “Our biggest initiative in 2015 is the development of ‘Life OnLine’, the Lending Hearts social mobile app.,” said Vasso.  “Created by students and advisors at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC),  ‘Life OnLine’ will allow our Lending Hearts friends and their families to feel connected to our community at any time and from anywhere.”

For ways you can support Lending Hearts Programs with your time or a donation, visit their website at http://www.lendinghearts.org/lhgiving.html