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Bringing Smiles To Young Faces

Massapequa’s Ashley Wade found her calling in life — or, more accurately, her calling found her.

The 21-year-old grew up like any other local girl; she was sweet, sensitive, full of energy and loved reading and crafts. She was also very involved in athletics, playing three varsity sports during her four years in high school. She even dreamed of playing ice hockey in college.

However, life had a different plan for her. At age 17, Wade was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after enduring painful symptons for two years and seeing a number of different doctors.

Because of the intense pain, Wade became a regular at Winthrop-University Hospital. While other girls her age were battling senior-itis, Wade had far more serious concerns.

During one of her hospital stays around the holidays, Wade received a ginger bread house from an older man who would often visit sick children.

“It gave me the idea that maybe if I could do the same for other children, maybe they would forget they were sick,” she said. “Even for just a little bit.”

And from that experience, the Ashley Wade Foundation was born. In an effort to bring joy and happiness to the lives of children suffering from chronic illnesses, Wade and her team of volunteers visit hospitals and throw parties for the children, design care packages and try to do anything they can to life their young spirits.

“It is the best feeling — for five or 10 minutes to see these kids forget about all the pain and the treatments,” she said. “They get to just be a happy, normal kid.”

Alexandra Riebl, Wade’s friend and vice-president of the foundation, often accompanied her friend at her treatment sessions for support and comfort. While at the hospital, she saw a ward full of children who needed a reason to smile.

“Those little kids’ faces were so sad,” said Riebl, who herself has spent plenty of time at hospitals, as she was diagnosed with a heart condition at a young age. “From that moment I knew I wanted to get involved.”

The foundation mainly focused on people in the Massapequa area, but the reach has since expanded. They also make it a point to focus on children with chronic illnesses, as they normally do not qualify for programs like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The Ashley Wade Foundation designates the children they help as Superstars. These Superstars are children suffering from a chronic illness, who is between the ages of one and 21 with an ongoing condition that requires medical treatment.

To refer a child, visit www.ashleywadefoundation.org and click the “Superstar” tab at the top of the page. Then, fill out the form and email it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The foundation proviedes all of their Superstar children with care packages throughout the year. Every time a child has surgery or has to stay in the hospital, the foundation will bring them a care package filled with all of their favorite items.

Putting together these care packages is hard work, but it is a task that Wade, Riebl and their volunteers cherish.

“There are times when it’s me and Alex, sitting on the floor until late at night putting packages together,” said Wade. “Our friends are out, but we want to stay in and work. The kids get these packages and they just light up. The parents even cry.”

And while it is all for the kids, sometimes parents are the ones that benefit in the most profound way. One of their Superstars, a young boy named Jack, recently had his third open-heart surgery. The girls gave the young boy a DVD of Toy Story, and the movie seemed to soothe his jangled nerves.

“It’s the little things that make them happy,” said Wade. “Anything to just take some of the pressure off of the parents.”

For more information about the foundation and how to help, visit www.ashleywadefoundation.org or visit theif Facebook page.