Kindness Blooms at Hackensack Meridian Health’s Josephine’s Garden


Josephine Rispoli would be 14 and in her first year of high school now. But sadly, she was diagnosed with a highly malignant brain tumor in September, 2010 at the age of six and lost her life to the disease 13 months later. 


When Josephine was undergoing treatment at the Children’s Cancer Institute at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack UMC, she longed for the outdoors since her treatment required extended hospitalizations that restricted her environment. Her dream was realized with the installation, on what would have been her 8th birthday of Josephine’s Garden, a play area located on an unused rooftop at the Institute. This vibrant outdoor play space includes a wishing fountain, a climbing boulder, a chalkboard, inspirational artwork and a warrior pole in which patients can carve their names to represent their battle. 


But Josephine’s mom, Heidi, didn’t stop there. A fierce and dedicated warrior in the constant battle for additional funding for pediatric cancer research, Heidi has worked tirelessly to end the disease that took her baby. After completing work on Josephine’s Garden, she also advocated for and then opened the Josephine Elle Hartung-Rispoli Research Lab, the first of its kind in NJ, supporting Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials.


Not so fun fact: In just 3 days, Americans spend on Starbucks coffee, what the federal government spends on childhood cancer research in a year.


To date, Heidi has raised almost a million dollars toward her mission. But she is not slowing down. 


In fact, this Saturday, September 29th, Heidi and J. Crew at Tice’s Corner will host a Shop Til You Drop event from 12 pm – 4 pm. Stock up on fall essentials, get a little something for your kiddos or start your holiday shopping and receive 20% off your purchase of $125 or more. Best of all, a portion of the sales will benefit Josephine’s Garden Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research. 


She has also partnered with activewear brand K-DEER to name one of their signature stripes after her daughter. The Josephine pattern is easily identifiable with its bright, bold stripes and Heidi says they raise both money (10% of each sale is donated to pediatric cancer research) and awareness because whenever she wears them, she’s got to be ready to tell Josephine’s story. 


And if your kid comes home from school saying they want to Go Gold, you can thank Heidi for that too. Each year she designs a pin that can be sold for a minimum donation of $3 at local schools. Kids are encouraged to wear gold and their pins throughout the month of September, National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. 


When asked about future plans, Heidi says that she would love to expand her Go Gold program to include every school in Bergen County. She would also love to build more Josephine’s Gardens at children’s hospitals around the country. But for now, she is focused on encouraging anyone who is able, to make a donation to help fund additional pediatric cancer research. Because though progress is slow, and some days are harder than others, she believes that awareness plus action plus money will make change happen. 


For more information about Josephine’s Garden, upcoming fundraisers or to find out how to get involved, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

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