Battling cancer at any age is a tremendous hardship, and watching a child endure treatment is particularly difficult.
Eric Semenetz discovered this firsthand after his son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2003.
Today, Garrett is 11-years-old and thriving.
"I'm blessed to say he is happy, healthy and doing well," Semenetz said.
His son's diagnosis took a toll on the family and Semenetz began working with other young cancer patients at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center a year later. He bought medals to hand out to the kids and saw how positively they responded to the small gesture.
His program soon spread to other nearby hospitals and he founded non-profit GiantKids in 2005. Since that year, the charity has hosted a yearly fundraiser in nearby Mahopac.
"When my son finished his treatments in late 2004, we decided to throw a big party for friends and family. We rented Camp Kiwi and decided to make it a place for the annual event," Semenetz said.
This Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of the GiantKids Summer Fun Festival, and up to 200 children are expected to attend the all-day affair.
"We make it an open event for families with cancer and other life-threatening diseases to come free of charge," Semenetz said.
Kids from all over the area enjoy fun summer activities like swimming, boating, water slides, a petting zoo, mini golf and a barbeque with food and drinks donated from local vendors.
One of the most popular activities of the special day has been a tradition since the inaugural event.
Dr. Brian Green of Sleepy Hollow Animal Hospital, has always been a big supporter of the charity. As the caretaker for the Sleepy Hollow Police Department's K-9 units, he asked the department to get involved with the event.
"He's an amazing guy," Semenetz said. "He's a big supporter of GiantKids."
Sleepy Hollow Police Department Officer Vincenzo Lombardi and Sergeant Anthony Bueti jumped on board right away, and have been conducting K-9 demonstrations at the GiantKids Summer Fun Festival ever since.
"It's just heartbreaking to see these kids, but also inspiring," said Sergeant Bueti, who worked with K-9 Brom before the dog retired earlier this year. "It's great to bring a smile to their faces."
Bueti added their demonstration always seems to draw the largest crowd, and according to Semenetz, attendees can't get enough of it.
"They just put on a show," he said. "They don't do conventional tricks; they do their police work."
Semenetz added the kids' positive reactions to the demonstrations have inspired the organization to bring more animals into play every year, including retired greyhounds and therapeutic horses.
"Kids and animals together really is a unique chemistry," Semenetz said. "We have kind of built on that theme over the years. It started with [Dr. Green] and it really grew from there."
Additionally, this year, Bueti and Lombardi reached out to neighboring police departments' K-9 units to amp up the demonstration.
"We expanded and invited Carmel, Mt. Vernon and Greenburgh," Bueti said. "There will be five officers and five dogs altogether."
Building on the charity's roots, giving the children something memorable and special, Bueti and Lombardi decided to raise funds this year to give each child a K-9 t-shirt, similar to the ones they wear for the demonstrations.
"We made a replica for them," Bueti said. "It's exciting."
Local businesses and residents have generously donated enough money so far to create 200 t-shirts, as well as excess that will be given directly to the charity.
According to Semenetz, the non-profit's staff is made up entirely of volunteers.
"At the end of this very exhausting day, we see the kids had a great time," Semenetz said. "That's what inspires us."
To learn more about the GiantKids, buy tickets to the Summer Fun Festival or make a donation, visit their website.