For more than a decade, the Guma family has honored the memory of former Secaucus resident Ralph Guma Jr. – who survived cancer for 23 years before passing away at 33 – by raising thousands of dollars to support children who suffer from brain tumors. This year the Guma Foundation hosts its ninth annual Casino Night fundraiser, which will be held on Feb. 9 at LaReggia starting at 7 p.m.
The event will include casino-style gaming, dinner, dancing, entertainment, raffle prizes, and a silent auction. Proceeds from the event will go toward Tomorrows Children’s Fund (TCF), a privately-funded non-profit organization affiliated with the Hackensack Medical Center dedicated to speeding the healing of children with cancer and serious blood disorders.
Fun for a cause
“We have gambling from 7 to 10,” said Patricia Guma, Ralph Jr.’s mother and foundation representative. She said attendees get a certain amount of chips with their admission ticket to start the evening. Games include traditional casino offerings such as Black Jack, roulette, and Texas Hold ’Em.
Players win tickets, which they can drop in bags for various raffle prizes including a one-week stay in Las Vegas, NFL tickets, and Broadway dinner and theater tickets, among others.
Guma noted that they are offering a coveted prize this year: four tickets to the Jim Beam Suite at Yankees Stadium.
“After the prizes, my sons and their college band play songs and everybody dances,” said Guma. “It is a long night and everybody has a really good time.”
“This is a labor of love for us.” – Patricia Guma
“He never misses an opportunity if there is a microphone,” said Guma about D’Elia.
“He is great. He is wonderful and the crowd loves him.”
Supporting children with brain tumors
“We’ve committed $10,000 a year to Tomorrows Children for children that have a brain tumor,” said Guma. “Whatever the children need…that is where our priorities are.”
TCF has helped a number of children from Secaucus. The Tomorrows Children’s Fund in Feb. 2008 dedicated a room at the Hackensack Medical Center in honor of Ralph Guma Jr. The room is sponsored by the Guma Foundation and serves as a place to take a break for families of hospitalized sick children.
“We bought a TV for that room and some DVDs and whatever else they needed for it,” said Guma. She added that it is a place, “where parents can close the door and sit in there and get away from the hospital environment.”
Guma has met families of children in the hospital who have told her that they enjoy unwinding in Ralphy’s Room.
While Ralph Jr. was not treated at Hackensack Medical Center, she said that she chose TCF because of its proximity to Secaucus and the work that they do with children.
“I know they have a wonderful organization,” said Guma. “I know they do good things for children.”
Achiever and fighter
“This is a labor of love for us,” said Guma about the fundraising efforts. Ralph Jr.’s brain tumor was discovered when he was 9 during a routine eye exam. The youngest of three sons, his mother describes him as, “very active, a bright student, a good athlete.” He had to immediately go for tests and have the tumor removed. Then he went through two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was treated in Newark and moved around according to where his doctors were located.
“He had to go for periodic testing after that,” said Guma.
Years after Ralph Jr. had graduated from college, he had a stroke.
“Apparently the radiation had weakened the arteries to the brain,” said Guma. “We took him over to New York at that time.”
A couple of years following that incident, they discovered a heart murmur and Ralph Jr. required heart surgery. He was operated on by Dr. Mehmet Oz during an eight- to nine-hour operation.
“He passed the next day,” said Guma. He was 33 years old.
The Guma Foundation has extended its support beyond TCF by providing resources, materials, and funds to other individuals and groups that work with children battling cancer and brain tumors. The foundation was originally founded in 1991 in memory of Ralph Sr. and provided local scholarships. The organization has recently offered support to a local boy who has a brain tumor as well as provided food gift cards to families that have terminally ill children at Valley Hospital in addition to other efforts.
“We are very small but we are out there,” said Guma. She said that through their work she feels it is important, “if you can just make the kids happy…even if it is for one day.”
Because of Hurricane Sandy and the affect it has had throughout the region, the Guma Foundation has lowered the cost of tickets for Casino Night to $100 per person. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit: http://gffoundation.net/
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.