Debbie Peck of Merrick was recently honored with the esteemed Sheila W. Paterson Award, Friends of Karen’s most prestigious award, named for the founder of the organization that aided Peck’s family during a most devastating period of time.
Friends of Karen is a Long Island charity that supports critically ill children and their families during times of crisis.
Family is everything to Peck, owner of Peckbuilt Construction in Merrick.
Her family of five included three children, of whom Richie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) at the age of two. A strapping teen, Richie rode his bike daily throughout town, played horse in the driveway with his siblings, and would visit the Calhoun High School football field during most practices.
In 1999, Richie Peck was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, at Schneiders Children Hospital (now Steven and Alexandra Cohen’s Medical Center of New York).
Devastated and determined, Debbie stayed by Richie’s bedside, leaving her business behind, working through intensive medical protocol while tending to her family’s needs. When Richie relapsed shortly after completing chemotherapy, Debbie finally reached out to charities for assistance. She was connected to a Friends of Karen social worker, who met her in the hospital the very next day.
“I was embarrassed to ask for assistance, but when Richie relapsed, we felt a great deal of pressure,” said Peck. “Our Friends of Karen social worker told us to put our bills in an envelope and send them to her. It was a bridge to get us over the financial stress to focus on what mattered most, spending time with our son.”
At that point, Friends of Karen had been assisting families of children with life-threatening illnesses for over two decades. Fast forward 16 years, and they have grown into a tri-state organization that has helped nearly 14,000 children and families with personal advocacy provided by a team of dedicated professionals – including social workers, expressive arts therapists and child life specialists – who work to ensure they have the financial, emotional and practical support they need to get through the turmoil and treatment process of a devastating diagnosis.
“Our family is strong and proud, and it was difficult to ask for help. Yet Friends of Karen was by our side with the perfect balance of assistance, never overbearing and there at the exact right moments,” said Peck.
In July 2000, Richie lost his battle to Ewings Sarcoma just days before his 17th birthday. Friends of Karen assisted with cremation expenses and continued to be there for the Peck family.
When Friends of Karen’s Port Jefferson office opened its doors in 2001, Peck was ready to “give back.” She visited the office where Richie’s beautiful photo was framed on the wall. Over the years, she has spoken on behalf of the organization at corporate events, community groups, schools, a Gala in New York City, and continues to serve as a member of Friends of Karen’s Long Island Advisory Board.
She is the owner and operator of Peckbuilt, a construction management and general contracting firm, and is a working to be a life coach with a focus on empowering youth. Her children Jamessina and Matthew are now 35 and 29, respectively.
“Richie’s joy will always be present in our lives,” concluded Peck. “Supporting Friends of Karen is a beautiful tribute to him, and an opportunity to share the powerful work of this organization with others.”
If you or someone you know could benefit from Friends of Karen, the charity can be reached at www.friendsofkaren.org, or by calling 631-473-1768.