Kids Cancer Connection was founded by Steven Firestein in 1994, after a cancer scare forced him to reassess his priorities. When he first felt the bump on his scalp at age 27, Firestein ignored the growth, fearing he had cancer. By the time he went under the knife, the tumor in his head had grown to the size of a golf ball. Although it turned out to be benign, the cancer scare forced him to reassess his priorities. Firestein, who had met several children with cancer during his doctor visits, decided to devote his life to alleviating their pain and suffering.
“I wanted to do something for them,” Firestein said. “I felt like they got a bad deal. I was no saint, and I thought, ‘Why was I spared? Why did they get cancer?’”
In 1994, a year after his brush with mortality, Firestein- a member of the philanthropic Max Factor cosmetics family- founded a nonprofit that would eventually become Kids Cancer Connection.
Firestein decided that his L.A.-based organization’s first program would be to give hats and caps to young cancer patients who had lost their hair from chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. The Magical Caps for Kids program resonated strongly with Firestein, as doctors had shaved his head before removing his benign tumor, leaving him feeling vulnerable and self-conscious. To date, Magical Caps has donated an estimated 100,000 caps across the nation.
“I think what he’s doing is terrific,” said Marcia Helton, a 59-year-old professional caregiver from Los Osos, CA., who has assembled a group of girls called the Little Angels to knit hats, scarves and blankets for Kids Cancer Connection and other charities. The caps “make kids feel cared about,” says Helton. “It’s also great for their families, because the families feel better when their kids feel better.”
Under Firestein’s direction, Kids Cancer Connection branched out into new areas. In the late ’90s, the charity began sponsoring field trips to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and other attractions. Firestein used his networking abilities to procure free tickets, even tapping the California Travel & Tourism Commission for vouchers.
Later, he helped establish the Courageous Kid Recognition Award to recognize the bravery of children battling cancer. Recently, a young boy undergoing a bone marrow transplant received the award at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, where he now seeks treatment. Thousands of children across the United States have received the Courageous Kid Recognition Award.
Firestein himself has been recognized for his efforts. In 1995, he won a National Volunteer Service Award from Volunteers of America. In November, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) took to the House floor to praise Firestein’s efforts.
“I totally feel like I’m making a difference,” Firestein said.
Originally printed in the Jewish Journal.