Kiwanis Pledges NICU Room in Honor of “Amazing Grace”

Jennifer Johnson and "Amazing" Grace

"Amazing Grace," dressed as Sandy Strong, with her mom, Jennifer Johnson.

At only 16 months old, “Amazing Grace” Esposito, daughter of Irondequoit Kiwanis President Vinnie Esposito and 13WHAM Anchor Jennifer Johnson, touched so many lives. A 2012 Golisano Children’s Hospital Miracle Kid, Grace was born on Sept. 19, 2011, with a severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a hole in the diaphragm that separates the organs of the belly from the chest.

Grace had virtually no diaphragm on the left side. As she formed, it allowed her intestines, stomach and part of her liver to move up and push her heart out of place. It also left very little room for her lungs to form and grow. Grace pushed through and stayed strong for months to come, inspiring her family, providers, the community, and other CDH families. Sadly, after a surgery to repair a new hole that formed in her diaphragm, “Amazing Grace” passed away on February 16, 2013.

With the help of Rochester-area Kiwanis Clubs and 13WHAM, Grace’s parents started a fundraising campaign in her honor a few months before her last surgery. Even though Grace has died, Vinnie and Jennifer continue to feel inspired to give back to the hospital and its providers because of the time they were able to spend with Grace, who they described as being born "not equipped for this world."

“We want to honor them and thank them by helping them build a new hospital where they can work so hard on more miracles. We started this fundraising effort months ago and feel more passionate about it now than ever,” they said days after Grace died.

The Esposito Family

Avery Esposito, Vinnie Esposito, Jennifer Johnson,
and baby Grace.

As Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals sponsors, Rochester-area Kiwanis Clubs have always been supporters of Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The 18 Kiwanis Clubs of the Genesee Division stepped up in an incredible and very personal way by pledging to raise $100,000 to name a room in the new hospital in honor of “Amazing Grace.”

The Kiwanis Clubs are channeling the strength Grace had, and the inspiration she was, as they pull out all the stops to be as creative as possible in raising the funds to build a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) room in the new $145-million Golisano Children’s Hospital. The new hospital will be 245,000 square feet and includes a greatly expanded Gosnell Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – with private rooms – on the third floor.

Jennifer and Vinnie have become some of the hospital’s biggest advocates and are carrying that forward into their new role as co-chairs of the Kiwanis campaign. The campaign was announced at an October 2012 event at the Seneca Park Zoo when Vinnie was installed as the president of the Irondequoit Kiwanis Club and when Grace celebrated her first birthday. That event, alone, raised almost $4,000. The 13WHAM Spectacle of Lights at Camp Eastman was a winter festival in Irondequoit that raised another $20,000.

“It was enormously successful for a first-time event,” Vinnie said. “We learned a lot and so many people told us they really appreciated who the beneficiary of the event was, Golisano Children’s Hospital.”

Along with additional Kiwanis gifts, Vinnie said the clubs raised a quarter of the $100,000 goal in its first four months. Since the passing of Grace, a spirited and beautiful little girl whose hair was barely long enough for the pigtails she wore the morning of her last surgery, the community has embraced Vinnie and Jennifer's wish and donated thousands more in her honor.

To donate to the Genesee Division Kiwanis Club NICU room in honor of Grace Esposito, please go to

Multimedia in this Issue:

Wine Auction Slideshow

Wine auction slideshow

Rainbow Classic Slideshow

Rainbow Classic slideshow