Starlight Fun Centers are Numero Uno for Massachusetts Tournament

A mother’s journey bringing happiness to hospitalized kids

July 5, 2016

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At age eight, brain cancer took Riley Roman’s life – but not his legacy.

Each year, Riley’s mission to fund Starlight Fun Centers for children’s hospitals is realized through an UNO Tournament his mom, Andrea Roman, hosts every year.

Since 2013, Riley’s UNO Tournament has raised $20,000 and provided four of these mobile gaming units to hospitals, including Boston Children’s Hospital and Baystate Children’s Hospital.

On June 7, another Starlight Fun Center, paid for from this year’s Riley’s UNO tournament, was delivered to MassGeneral Hospital for Children.

The idea to give back inspired Riley after he spent 10 months at Boston Children’s Hospital in the neurology department to treat his brain cancer. It was there, Andrea says, that he noticed a discrepancy between his floor – neurology – and the general oncology floor.

The general oncology floor had pizza parties and Fun Centers and other activities, while the neurology floor did not.

“He asked one of the nurses why that was and they explained that unfortunately when people donate to the hospital, unless they specify where the money goes, it will go to the general floor,” Andrea said.

When Riley was released, and had received a good prognosis, he and Andrea had conversations about ways they could stay involved and help the families going through the kind of crisis they experienced.

“There were some specific ones he had from a kid’s perspective and a patient's perspective living in a hospital for a long period of time,” Andrea said. “One of his ideas was for the floors that get less funding, he wanted to make sure those kids had more Fun Centers.”

Riley’s neurology floor did have one Fun Center at the time, but there was a long waiting list. For some kids, by the time their turn came up, they were getting discharged.

“Their whole stay was spent hoping for the Fun Center,” Andrea said. “Riley wanted to raise money for multiple Fun Centers so they didn’t have to wait. That was one of his main ideas that he wanted to start working on with his school. He wanted to talk to classmates and teachers and sports teams he was on, and people in the community. He wanted to tell people about that lack of resources these hospitals have and how to raise money for those floors.”

Andrea said that’s how her son always had been – “a kind, old soul, but so hip and trendy and modern. He had friends all over and made friends everywhere. He could sit down with a senior and be in tune and connected with them. He could be super silly and crazy with kids his age.”

Tragically, Riley’s prognosis changed and he ended up passing away suddenly without seeing his wishes realized. Andrea wanted to make sure his ideas were seen through, and the idea of an UNO Tournament came together.

“He didn’t specifically think of an UNO tournament, but UNO was one of his favorite games and we would have family UNO parties,” Andrea said. “He would love to have tournaments and play over and over again. I decided to bring some of Riley’s essence to the way that we spend his ideas and the UNO tournament was a way to raise funds.”

It all just came together. Andrea found a great venue, sponsors and the event sold out. Participants – limited to 100 – pay an entry fee of $25. And the tournament goes to first, second and third place. The winner gets a cash prize, and their original teammates that they started with receive gift cards to Game Stop.

A local pizzeria, Uno’s Pizzeria and Grill, provides pizza for the participants while volunteers keep bowls of popcorn full at each table. Andrea also sets up an informational booth about cancer and brain tumors. The tournament is held each May, which is National Brain Tumor Month.

“Over the years, it’s remained something for all ages. It’s not really thought of in the community as a kid’s family fun night. It’s not just a grown up night out either. We keep it exactly in the middle,” Andrea said.

Many participants build UNO teams, including local officers and firefighters, school clubs and just groups of friends. A highlight is DJ Nick, a 12-year-old local deejay who spins tunes for the guests and volunteers during the tournament.

In the end, the community has fun – just like Riley wanted – and $20,000 has been raised for Starlight Fun Centers – just like Riley wanted.

RILEY STYLE

When the Fun Center is delivered, it’s done “Riley Style” – meaning it’s done as a surprise for those on the floor who are receiving it.

“They are so thankful and they get a kick out of it,” Andrea said. “We like to be funny and silly. We don’t do a formal presentation. We kind of just go in as regular people.”

Riley’s nickname was Riley Superhero. He made it up while in treatment and contemplated one day how weird it would be if Superhero was someone’s last name. Andrea and his nurse started calling him Mr. Riley Superhero and it caught on.

Now, each Fun Center delivered has a special sticker so those using it know it came from Riley’s UNO Tournament. The sticker reads: “You’ve been Riley Superheroed.”

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