After losing three siblings to cancer, Peter D'Amico had had enough. "I told my wife I had to do something to help end this disease," he recalls. D'Amico got in touch with St. Jude's Hospital, the nation's preeminent pediatric cancer facility, and told them he could create something that could benefit them.
The event he created, "A New Dawn With St. Jude," has grown in five years to become a significant fundraiser in Fairfield County. "The first year was tough," D'Amico says. "We had about 200 people show up, and we raised around $6,000." That figure has steadily grown to $21,000, $41,000 and last year $47,000, despite a downturned economy. "I think we might have saved a life," D'Amico beams.
Saving lives is nothing new for D'Amico. Westport's head animal control officer has rescued hundreds of dogs and placed them in adopted homes. But that's his job. The St. Jude's gala is his passion. Along with co-chair Anne Sessa, a retired teacher, they begin planning for the event right after New Year's. "It's a lot of work," he says. "We live and breathe it for four months." D'Amico's experience as entertainment chairman for Westport's Festival Italiano serves him in good stead in booking entertainment for the gala, which is held at the Italian Center in Stamford and features dinner, dancing and a full show by a musical artist. This year the headliner is tenor Perry Canestrari from Canada, along with comedian/impressionist Mark Verselli.
"The toughest thing is getting people to come the first time," says D'Amico. "Once they do, they tend to come back, and tell others about it. So it's how we keep the event growing." This year's show is scheduled for April 30.
"I've always been community-minded," says D'Amico, who served as a Westport policeman for 31 years. "I've always believed we have to give back to others. It's my duty to support other people."
Are you planning to attend the St. Jude gala this year?
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