Family rejected by Empire State Building

Francesca Kaczynski laughed. The little girl smiled despite her surroundings. In videos she played with balloons with Elmo on them.

When she was six months old, doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of brain cancer, and she died before her first birthday.

“She was just a beautiful, beautiful spirit who had met a very bad fate,” said Francine Smilen, Kaczynski's grandmother.


What you need to know

  • The Empire State Building made headlines when it lit up green to celebrate the Philadelphia Eagles winning the NFC Championship game
  • The family of a baby who died of brain cancer contacted the Empire State Building and asked to have the building illuminated in gold in celebration of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
  • However, the family's request for 2021 was denied, with the Empire State Building saying that “after careful consideration” they decided to deny the request
  • The American Childhood Cancer Organization says the iconic building has been turning down requests from other families for nearly a decade

Smilen said the Brooklyn baby was a fighter and she refuses to forget her, placing a cardboard cutout of her in her dining room.

“This is what I look at every time I eat,” Smilen said.

Smilen says she tries to use the pain to raise awareness about childhood cancer. She has raised more than $3 million through fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, creating a new brain tumor program for babies.

“I think about how unfair it is that these children don't have a chance at life,” Smilen said.

Smilen says her family turned to the Empire State Building for help, hoping the building's owner would light it up in gold in September for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

The Empire State Building lights up for many different reasons.

This year the building has been lit up for television programs such as 'Sex and the City', Breast Cancer Awareness Month and even the Philadelphia Eagleswho won the NFC Championship game.

According to the building, anyone can register and it is free to illuminate the tower. However, Smilen's request for 2021 was rejected.

“After careful consideration of your proposal, it has unfortunately been decided to deny your request,” the Empire State Building said in an email.

The American Childhood Cancer Organization says the iconic building has been turning down requests from other families for nearly a decade.

“We've never really had a reason why,” says Ruth Hoffman, the CEO of the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

Hoffman says her nonprofit has raised $98.8 million and lighting the Empire State Building would be a big help.

“There is such a huge need for research and corporate donors,” Hoffman said.

The Empire State Building is a private entity and has complete discretion over who and what is honored. NY1 has reached out to the Empire State Building to learn more about the decision-making process, but has not yet heard back.

Meanwhile, Smilen questions the Empire State Building's decision. She hopes the city's iconic symbol will reconsider its choice and honor the life and struggles of her granddaughter – and countless others.

“In Judaism we say that her memory may be a blessing, and I never really understood that until now,” Smilen said.

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