August 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

Society confidential: New charity will help sick kids enjoy their childhood

Kids Gala Founder McKnight, left, with Kids Gala board member Carrie York Slominski and partner Jim Dunn. (Martin LeFlore)

Forget about how fun and festive the title “Kids Gala” sounds. During the speeches at the inaugural event, which took place Friday night at Rochester’s tony Royal Park Hotel, there were at least two moments when there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

David C. McKnight, who owns Emerald City Designs, created Kids Gala in honor of Nicole Marie Burton, a 9-year-old girl who lost her five-year battle with leukemia in November. She was the daughter of McKnight’s childhood friend, Shelly Burton, who addressed the crowd during the program with a moving speech.

“In Nicole’s five-year fight, she spent over 400 days in the hospital, over 550 days in the clinic, countless pokes, chemo, radiation, isolation, and many days away from friends and family and social events,” said an emotional Burton, with her husband, Jim Burton, by her side. “She never learned to ride a two-wheeled bike; she never learned to roller skate; she often had to play with her dad, due to her lack of an immune system. Nicole is not alone. This is how many of these kids spend their time while in treatment.

“The small things, like seeing your child smile, laugh, be silly, seeing them just being a kid, are the days that we looked forward to,” she continued. “Kids Gala will allow us and families who have these blessed children to celebrate their lives and what they go through.”

The hundred or so guests were asked to wear white to create a heavenly atmosphere, creatively complimented by the white silk draped tent with crystal chandeliers, white covered tables and chairs and a perpetual shower of bubbles that appeared to fall out of the sky.

Guests enjoyed cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres that included watermelon and feta with a balsamic pipette, white cheddar mac and cheese spoons, and sliders with house-made kettle chips. The evening was emceed by WXYZ TV’s Erin Nicole, and also included live and silent auctions.

And then there were more tears.

“I’d like to introduce to you a very special little guy — Mighty Max,” said Burton, continuing her presentation. “Max was born at 29 weeks and 5 days weighing only 3 pounds, 8 ounces. He was diagnosed with Down syndrome, cataracts in both eyes, a hole in his heart, spending the first seven weeks of his life in the NICU.

“Max fought and proved many wrong, only to be hit hard again when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Max, like Nicole, spent over 150 nights in the hospital; having many adverse reactions to the chemo therapy he was given. The chemo paralyzed his vocal cords, partially paralyzed his colon, permanently damaged his optic nerves. His low immune system caused him to lose part of his finger due to an infection after one of his pokes. In 2013, Max broke his leg, and developed pressure ulcers from being in a cast. He received his last chemo treatment in January of 2014, and I am happy to announce he has been in remission since March of 2013.”

Kids Gala is dedicated to hosting events that will individually celebrate each child’s life achievements.

Kids Gala will present its first “Celebration of Life” party to “Mighty Max” Milewski on the one-year anniversary of Nicole Burton’s death, which will be Nov. 8, 2014.

For information, see the Kids Gala Facebook page.

Chuck Bennett is the Fox 2 News Style Ambassador and the creator of the Social D, a website that represents the social side of Metropolitan Detroit. See

Emerald City Designs' David C. McKnight with honoree Max Milewski. (Martin LeFlore)
Robin Gillum and her sister, WDIV anchor Rhonda Walker. (Martin LeFlore)
Sandy Hughes-O'Brien and Bruce Wolfgram. (Martin LeFlore)