In 30 years, Dancing in the Woods has raised more than $6.5 million to support the pediatric cancer program at Albany Med — which is astonishing for an idea that started out as small holiday cocktail party for friends.
“A friend’s child was being treated for cancer at the time,” said Nancy Carey Cassidy, COO of The Picotte Companies, who with George McNamee, former chairman of First Albany Corporation, founded Dancing in the Woods. “So, turning our party into a fundraiser for Albany Med was a great way to help.”
The original party was a huge success by every measure, especially financially.
“We actually netted $25,000 the first year,” Carey Cassidy said. “We were hoping to raise a couple of thousand dollars and just get the concept going. We were thrilled!”
It was a great success, but to the original committee, hardly a signal of what was to come.
“Honestly, I thought after five to 10 years,” Carey Cassidy said, “it would be replaced by something else, and we’d ride off into the sunset, happy we were able to get a childhood cancer program started.”
What was at the time a two-day-a-week pediatric cancer clinic able to diagnose patients but unable to treat them has turned into the Melodies Center, the region’s only full-time center for childhood cancer and blood disorders.
“Receiving a cancer diagnosis is devastating for a family,” Carey Cassidy said. “Then to find out you had to relocate to Boston or New York for treatment — that’s awful. Our goal with Dancing was to get enough funding so those families could get world-class treatment right here, which is what they now get.”
Gone are the days of handwriting each invitation in Carey Cassidy’s living room. The event has grown not only into one of the most anticipated holiday affairs, but also a chance to connect with those helped by the original mission.
“When you meet some of the Melodies families,” Carey Cassidy said, “they look right at you and say ‘You’ve made a difference in my child’s life.’ That tells me our idea is a success.”