NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Sharing Network recently hosted nearly 300 people last week to remember Riley Kogen, a five-year-old girl whose donated kidneys saved the lives of two other people.
At the ceremony, Riley’s parents, Mitch and Ali Kogen of Livingston, put the finishing touches on a “floragraph,” a picture of Riley created with natural materials that will adorn the Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Riley’s Dance, is a program of the NJ Sharing Network and is the name of the charity that was created by her family to help transplant patients in crisis. This program helped to sponsor the program that ran last Thursday evening.
“Tonight is a time to celebrate the life and legacy of Riley. It is a time for tears and also a time for love and laughter,” said Elisse Glennon, executive director of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation.
“And it’s a time to learn how your support for Riley’s Dance is benefiting those who are disadvantaged at a pressing and difficult time. Already your generosity is making a difference. It is helping others to dance again, just like Riley loved to dance.”
Also sponsoring the event was Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapels in Livingston, a member of the Dignity Memorial® network of funeral service providers. Representatives from the funeral home, who were called upon last December to help Riley’s family through the difficult days after her passing, attended the event.
Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman will pay tribute to Riley by sponsoring the family’s trip to Pasadena to view their daughter’s “floragraph” on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float. The float honors organ and tissue donors and spreads the life-saving message of organ and tissue donation to hundreds of thousands of people on the parade route and millions more on television.
“We are honored to be able to commemorate Riley’s life and her family’s decision to reach beyond their grief to help others with this amazing gift,” said Michael Steffaro, market director of the Dignity Memorial® providers in New Jersey.
“Working in the funeral industry, we understand the heart-wrenching circumstances that surround organ donation. We are committed to focusing on the needs of donor families while actively working with the staff and volunteer ambassadors of NJ Sharing Network to educate the public on the importance of deciding to become an organ and tissue donor candidate.”
The Kogen family created Riley’s Dance to provide funds to organ recipients and their families who need help paying for medications, insurance co-pays, or other critical needs. So far it has helped the recipient of a kidney, a single mother who was in need of a down payment for an appropriate apartment for her children, and a kidney recipient who lost his job and needed funds to continue his health insurance coverage.
The Kogen family’s story of generosity, even amid tragedy, is told in a video unveiled at the event:
At Thursday evening’s event, Mitch and Ali Kogen both spoke about their daughter and thanked family and friends for the “blanket of love” that has surrounded them in the past year.
“Riley touched our hearts and souls in the most beautiful way and tonight we are here to honor her,” Ali Kogen said. “She loved to dance to her own beat even if no one was watching. Our greatest gift was to know her for five years and our greatest challenge will be missing her for a lifetime.”
Mitch Kogen told the story of his immediate desire to help others after Riley’s passing and how he worked with Elisse Glennon and others at NJ Sharing Network to continue to build a legacy for Riley.
Riley’s generosity has inspired many to become registered organ and tissue donors, saving additional lives. The United Network for Organ Sharing has released the latest figures that show 21 people die each day while waiting for an organ.
One woman who received the gift of life from Riley, Omayra Candelaria, a Long Branch woman, attended the ceremony, showing first-hand how Riley’s legacy lives on.
“I am thankful for the courage and strength it takes for you to be in this room,” Mitch Kogen said to the woman who received one of his daughter’s kidneys. “And it is so fitting that you are here with us this evening.”