Sophia’s Story

Somerton’s Sophia Smargissi used her birthday celebration as a way to raise money for a cancer support group.

A cause for celebration: Sophia Smargissi and her grandmother, Debbie Scialanca, smile during the “Give Back With Love” fundraiser on Nov. 4. The event raised more than $6,000 for the Cancer Support Community of Greater Philadelphia’s Gilda’s Club. Source: Dawn Kenny / Supplied Photo

In today’s world, most teenagers’ 16th birthday party or “Sweet 16s” are huge productions meant to shower the birthday individual with gifts and attention. Sophia Smargissi is certainly not your typical 16-year-old, so why would she follow this societal norm?

Smargissi is a Somerton resident and student at Archbishop Ryan High School. She has a tight-knit family that has molded her into the giving person she is to this day.

Four years ago, Smargissi’s stepfather, Michael Kenny, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. To help her adjust to this change in her life, her mother, Dawn Kenny, thought that reaching out to a support group would be beneficial for the whole family.

While at Holy Redeemer Hospital, the family found out about the Cancer Support Community of Greater Philadelphia’s Gilda’s Club.

Although they went in unsure of what to expect, they felt the love from the beginning.

“We were welcomed with open arms,” said Dawn Kenny. “There’s no judgment, which I loved.”

For the past four years, Smargissi has participated in a number of the support group’s free programs offered for children and teens.

“When you first come here, you’re all sad and you feel alone and usually by a month in, you have all these new friends,” Smargissi said.

Smargissi attended these programs for years and even in the past summer decided to take a leadership role as a camp counselor for the week-long summer camp at Gilda’s Club.

She knew that the younger members of the camp look up to you while you’re in this position and even detailed how she became close with a young girl member, who started to refer to Smargissi as “mom” at the camp.

Three months ago, Smargissi wanted to think of a way to give back to the community that has meant so much to her. With her 16th birthday approaching at the end of the year, she asked her mother what she thought about the idea of using the birthday to raise money for CSCGP.

Kenny was hesitant at first, but with the persistence of her daughter, they decided to go through with the plan.

The family coordinated with CSCGP through the whole process on how to raise funds and plan for an event like this.

The next three months included nonstop work from reaching out to businesses to sponsor the event, selling raffle tickets outside of St. Christopher Church in Somerton, to Smargissi making and selling 80-plus T-shirts for the event to fellow students at Ryan.

At the beginning of this venture, the family was unsure of where to set the bar for fundraising.

Kenny thought $1,000 would be a feasible goal, but her mother, Debbie Scialanca, thought that $5,000 was attainable.

Months of hard work all led to Nov. 4, when the “Give Back With Love” fundraiser was held.

The night included music from a DJ, photo booth pictures, raffle basket giveaways and caterpillar races between Sophia and her friends.

“I knew almost everyone there and it was people from school, people from Gilda’s, people from other camps, just all coming together all being there for my event,” said Smargissi. “It meant a lot to me knowing that I had all these people behind me helping.”

By the end of the night, they realized the amount raised for CSCGP was over $6,000.

“Our adrenaline was going that night,” said Scialanca.

Those at CSCGP who were in attendance were in awe at what this family accomplished in the short amount of time to hold a fundraiser like this.

Christine Daly, board secretary for CSCGP, was one of those who was overcome with joy at what was accomplished this night.

“This was a family that had never done major fundraising before, so kudos to Sophia,” Daly said. “With very little coaching from me on how to get organized and set committees, they rolled into action.”

The 100 or so people in attendance enjoyed themselves and knew this was a worthy cause.

This would not have been possible without the hard work of the family, Daly said.

“This is truly three generations of can-do women,” she said.

Since opening, over 15,000 adults and 2,000 kids have joined CSCGP.

To donate to Sophia’s cause for CSCGP, go to cancersupportphiladelphia.org

There is a donate button. The donor can choose “In honor of” and write Sophia’s name.

Checks may be sent to 200 Kirk Road, Warminster, PA 18974. Write “Sophia” on the memo line of the check.

The nonprofit CSCGP never charges for any of its services so that no one faces cancer alone. ••

John Cole can be reached at jcole@bsmphilly.com