A Comfy Night of Holiday Cheer

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Photo by Mary O’KEEFE
Sydney Flynn, left, and Emily Haug of Assisteens help children during the annual pajama party at City of Hope hosted by the Desi Geestman Foundation.

Desi Geestman Foundation event is a warm, fuzzy affair – like a cozy pair of pajamas.


For 15 years the Desi Geestman Foundation has been supporting kids diagnosed with cancer as well as supporting their families. On Saturday the foundation held one of its favorite and most popular events. It was not exactly a black tie affair. The dress of the night? Comfy, cozy pajamas.

The auditorium at the City of Hope in Duarte was transformed into a pajama party with over 450 guests in attendance.

“We give [cancer patients, survivors and their families] a night when their disease is not winning,” said Chris Aristo, a director on the foundation’s advisory board.

The pajamas are an equalizer – no one knows whether the child is a patient or a sibling.

“And what’s more cozy than a pair of pajamas?” asked Ileana Geestman, DGF founder.

There were tables for kids to explore their crafty side, food supplied by Panda Express and lots of presents. La Crescenta teens Sydney Flynn, a senior, and her friend, junior Emily Haug, have been volunteering with the DGF through the Assisteens program of Assistance League of Glendale since they were in middle school.IMG_0829

“It’s one of my favorite [events],” Flynn said. “We see many of the same kids each year.” Some of the kids are in remission and some are still receiving treatment.

Saturday was bittersweet for Flynn since it would be her last time to help through Assisteens. She is a graduating from high school and will be aged out of the program; however, she said that helping at the event has changed her life.

Flynn said she saw what that fight against cancer was like for so many children and, because of what she saw, she has decided to become a doctor. So even though she will not be volunteering at the pajama night next year, she will continue helping through her future career.

This level of involvement and dedication by the Assisteens was echoed continuously during the night by those who were volunteering at the pajama party, whether from the Crescenta Valley High School girl’s soccer team who collected and distributed pajamas, to the sorority and fraternity members from California State University Northridge who helped raise money, serve food and set up.IMG_5776

“They just want to be part of it,” Geestman said of the volunteers. “As they [age out] they share [the experience] with the next generation. We have been really fortunate.”

The foundation is named after and inspired by Desi Geestman, who was 12 years old when she lost her fight with neuroblastoma in 1999. She was a young girl who wanted to help other kids struggling with cancer. The foundation supports kids and their families in many ways, including financially and by hosting events, but it is the pajama party that is the highlight of the year.IMG_5813

“This is our emotional support,” said Ileana Geestman, Desi’s mom.

Kids of every age, from the very young to those 28 years old, all dressed in pajamas, get to meet Santa, receive gifts, eat cookies and just have fun. They and their families also get to talk to others who are facing similar problems.

In addition to the presents, pajamas and Santa, there was also a chance for kids and their families to meet some young Disney stars. Piper Curda, Austin North, Sarah Gilman, Olivia Holt and Peyton Clark from the television show “I Didn’t Do It” spent the evening meeting and taking photos with children. They stayed longer than originally planned so the volunteers had a chance to meet them as well.

The Desi Geestman Foundation is a family operation with father Bernie and sister Vanessa, now the foundation’s executive director, all working to honor Desi.

“Desi is smiling,” Geestman said. “She is enjoying this from up above.”