THIS YEAR, ABOUT 11,050 CHILDREN under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. Advances in treatment mean that 84% will survive five years or longer. But no matter what, the disease will have an effect on their childhood.

When Rich Nardiello of Washington Township, New Jersey, learned from a family friend that a local girl with cancer had been in the hospital for over a year, he decided to do something to lift her spirits. He had recently customized a ride-on toy car for one of his grandchildren and decided to do the same for the girl. The reaction made the effort worthwhile. “She started smiling like crazy,” he remembers, “having a really good time, like any other kid would, not someone who’s spent 409 days in the hospital.”

Paying it Forward

Personal health struggles inspired Rich Nardiello to give to others.

​Rich Nardiello’s efforts to help others in their time of need are inspired by personal experience. In 2012​​, he had a stroke and subsequently had to learn how to walk, talk and write all over again. “I noticed that [healing] isn’t all physical,” he say​​s. “There’s a mental part of it too. I believe, because of what I went through from a patient’s perspective, that if you don’t have the right positive outlook, you’re going to be in trouble.”​

Buoyed by the response, Nardiello decided to keep customizing cars for other children with cancer, collaborating with their parents to ensure he could make decorations and adornments related to their interests. Photos of his creations were shared on social media, which led to a connection to Kisses for Kyle, an organization dedicated to helping families affected by childhood cancer in the area. To date, Nardiello has delivered more than 30 customized vehicles to children in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and Georgia, and inspired similar efforts by others in Canada and Australia.

Kisses for Kyle

The Kisses for Kyle Foundation was founded in 2001 by Sharon Snyder in memory of her son, Kyle, who died in 1998 after being diagnosed with leukemia. The organization provides financial assistance to families living in southern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware who are affected by childhood cancer. For more information, and to learn how to donate or volunteer, visit kissesforkyle.org.

As word of his work spread, Nardiello recognized that his project, which he calls PopPop’s Kustom Kars, gave him a platform to raise awareness of childhood cancer and the impact it can have on families. “There are tons of kind people,” he says. “You don’t necessarily hear about it, but there’s an immense amount of good people out there. They’re willing to help, but they don’t know how.” Prior to the pandemic, Nardiello had given talks before community groups like the Scouts and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“The hospital is not a normal setting for a child to grow up in,” says Nardiello. “Yet they manage it because of their resiliency and their determination. They make the best of it and they adapt. I think if that’s something I can help [with], with some effort on my part, why wouldn’t I do this?” 

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