Parachute Jump light-up honors 6-year-old ‘Sweet Sally Sunshine’

Go gold: Brooklynites gathered at the Parachute Jump in Coney Island to watch it light up gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness month in memory of 6-year-old Ridgite Sally Kabel.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

They went gold for their girl.

Hundreds of Brooklynites gathered at Coney Island’s Parachute Jump on Sept. 27 to watch it light up in gold for September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and to hold a candlelight vigil for late 6-year-old Ridgite Sally Kabel, who lost her battle with leukemia on Sept. 19.

Sally’s father, Matt Kabel, said the September Parachute Jump lighting was always one of his little girl’s favorites, and that the vigil brought the community together to rally around the youngster and her legacy.

“We all needed something to celebrate Sally,” Kabel said. “Everybody came together for her.”

Attendees came from near and far, many of whom had not yet met the family in person but had followed their years-long struggle to help Sally beat cancer, which parents Matt and Nicole chronicled on a blog, Facebook, and Instagram. Kabel said the size of the crowd surprised even him and his wife, adding that they did not expect to see acquaintances, friends, and family members who had made long treks for the vigil.

“I had coworkers there, friends we haven’t seem in a long time — people drove in. It was overwhelming when we drove up and saw it,” he said.

The dad thanked everyone for coming, emphasizing the importance of raising more funds and awareness for research into childhood cancers. And there were few dry eyes in the crowd when everyone joined in a sing-a-long of “You Are My Sunshine” — one of Sally’s favorite songs.

One local who attended the vigil said she followed the family’s trials on social media for years and felt she had to attend to express her condolences and the closeness she felt to their girl.

“After she passed away, we felt like a part of it,” said Bensonhurst resident Toni Franco. “I just felt like I needed to be there.”

Later, towards the end of the event, the Kabels asked the crowd to line up so they could give all of them a hug to thank them for their support.

Franco said it was moving to finally meet the family she had felt such a connection to for so many years.

“I got to finally meet them and hug them, and it was a beautiful experience,” she said.

Another local who attended — and also lost a child to cancer — said it offered a chance for community members to connect and share their grief over the girl’s passing.

“It was a good healing opportunity for the whole community,” said Camille Loccisano, who lost her son, Frankie, to leukemia and bone cancer in 2007 and subsequently founded Frankie’s Mission, an organization that helps families of children battling cancer. “She was a very inspirational little girl.”

Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) — who helped the Kabels coordinate the event — also delivered remarks in memory of the little girl, as did Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge) and state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge).

Kabel said he and his wife were glad that the event brought out bipartisan support, adding that locals’ strong support for their daughter offered a nice change from the sometimes-divisive local political scene.

“Everybody came together for her — we got to know so many people in the neighborhood through Sally and saw the good in everybody,” he said. “When we lost Sally, everybody came together again, and it was the first time we’d seen that in years.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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