our blog


a neighborhood mom needs our help to save her life.

I met Ilysa Winick (or Lees, as everyone calls her) through my good friend, Nicole. Nicole connected us, years ago, because she thought we had a lot in common. Ilysa is a mom of two kids – Benjamin (7 years old) and Ryan (5 years old) who founded Reade Street Prep – a well-loved Tribeca preschool/enrichment center. 10 months ago, I was shocked and saddened when Nicole told me that Ilysa’s life changed drastically and forever overnight. This is her story in her own words…

I don’t mean to whine, but daily dialysis can get any girl down. As if what happened wasn’t enough, I have to deal with kidney failure too?! It’s all a little surreal to be honest. There’s still a small part of me that expects to wake up and find that this nightmare is over. But alas, it’s real-there’s the wheelchair and here’s Louis; my trusted nurse. Lees? I hear a faint voice pierce through the black of night. It’s five-forty five am-the house is silent. It’s time to start. 

Amazing how life changes. Nine months ago I would have been up at five and out the door by five-fifteen am, heading to workout. It was a religion for me; Equinox, Exceed, Flywheel. I didn’t skip a day for eighteen years! No one was more dedicated than me. Then home by a quarter to seven to make lunches, pack back packs, and sneak in some time to read the paper and scarf down breakfast before all the boys get up. It’s still silent, and I can grab a shower before the chaos begins. At the time, the boys were four and six; two challenging, but adorable ages. They were busy, active kids, with school, after school classes, and full playdate schedules. My husband, Steve, (of nearly fourteen years), and I own and operate a preschool and children’s enrichment center just down the block; Reade Street Prep. Reade Street, Tribeca-that’s where it all happens for us. Our home, our business, our older son’s school, our friends, our lives. Super centric-perfect for a type A like me. I could take both boys to school, work all day at the preschool, pick up my first grader and shuffle him around to his classes and friends, go back to work, head home with the little one around five, cook or order dinner, do homework, and get the boys down. That was the daily grind. Weekends were packed with classes and practices and date nights with friends. The calendar was full. 

It was mid-June and end of year parties were in full swing. We were to leave for our summer out west in two weeks, right after a quick trip to London for our dear friend’s wedding. And then it happened. I didn’t feel well when I went to bed Monday. I was achy and tired and run down. I decided to take the morning, maybe even the day to rest. “Listen to your body”, Steve would say. For once, I did. By mid afternoon I couldn’t walk. My hands and feet felt like they were on fire. I called Steve and asked that he take me to urgent care. I couldn’t even walk the block to get there; something was wrong. After determining that I had strep throat and the flu, the urgent care doctor was convinced I was overreacting and dramatic and prescribed me some Valium, telling me to sleep it off. F*k that. I knew better. I climbed into the back of the ambulance, still screaming in pain. The ride was quick, but it seemed like a lifetime. It was ME in the ambulance, sirens blaring, racing through traffic. What was happening?! I had to show up for the first-grade party in an hour. I had organized the whole event! I had the card and the present. I was class mom! We had to move fast. Steve held my hand in the waiting room, as my world, and my body were crashing. The curtain closed around me when they got back my bloodwork. The whole team of doctors would emerge around my stretcher. And then, I blacked out. 

Waking up out of a coma is a slow and confusing process. I quickly learned what had happened; that the bacteria that was in my blood caused me to go into septic shock, cutting off the blood supply to my extremities and burning my body. I was on some sort of machine, it felt like a conveyer belt, all wrapped up in something like a shroud of sorts. The lights were bright. My sister was, gently as she could, delivering all the key facts to me. “Lees, don’t try to talk. You’re in the hospital. You have a breathing tube and a feeding tube in your throat. You’re okay. You contracted some crazy bacterial infection. You’ve been here for weeks.” What the f*k? I What? I’m where? What happened to me? Where are my boys? Later I would learn that the sepsis I suffered was so severe that it caused my hands and feet to become necrotic; black, burned, bloodless, and lifeless. I would need to have all four extremities amputated. I was way too drugged to really comprehend this at the time. It was all way too much to process and I was on every opiate under the sun. 

Five surgeries and countless other lesser mini-traumas later, I was ready to go home. It had been nearly four months. It was time to learn how to live my new life on the outside. I hear the churn of the dialysis machine. Beeping and gurgling, forcing the cold blood through my body. I shiver under all my covers, wrapped in tubes filled with toxic blood and clean blood, and I fight to fall back asleep and forget this for a while. About an hour and a half into treatment, I start to yawn incessantly. Here we go again. My blood pressure is dropping quickly. I peek out from my covers to look for Louis, but he’s already over me. He calms me as I squirm and tells me we’re gonna give you back some fluid. He messes with the machine for a few minutes and I start to feel better. My heart settles, my breathing returns to normal, and my body relaxes. I’m okay. Twenty more minutes… 

I need a kidney. From a donor with blood type O. Sounds simple enough, as that’s like 40% of the population, but it’s not. Nothing is these days. I’ve learned how to walk using my prosthetic's. I walk well; I’m getting faster. I’m going to be fast. I’m going to run an move like I used to. I’m learning how to use my myoelectric hands too. I typed this all myself. It’s all a process. I’m back at work between therapies, back out with friends and attending dinners and parties and parent/teacher conferences. I’m determined and unstoppable. Terrified and isolated, insecure and suddenly dependent, but focused on my recovery. The kidney transplant, however, is out of my control. I’m desperate for a donor; a live donor. This will improve my life significantly; no more dialysis, which sucks all your energy out. It’s worrying about everything you drink; volume control. It’s days when I can’t leave my house because my prosthetic's won’t fit. It’s cutting out all the food I used to love; cheese, avocado, tomato, nuts, spinach, yogurt, potatoes, to name a few things. And alcohol!!! Damn, I was a great drinker. Dialysis slows you down and consumes you. I can’t travel. I can’t run away. I’m still on life support. 

So, I need to spread the word; broaden my campaign. I hope that you will help me by reading my story and forwarding it to everyone you know. I’m hopeful this will work. I can be sustained like this for a couple of more years, but this is no way to live, and frankly, the statistics aren’t good. My family needs me. I need a chance. I need a healthy, happy donor to whom I will owe my life. The next chapter is waiting… For information on how to help: Email R7186@renwal.org / Call 718.431.9831 For more of my story or to make a charitable donation for Medical Expenses: https://helphopelive.org/campaign/11592

 We have been thinking of Ilysa and her family since the day she got sick. Tribeca is part of our apple seeds community and Ilysa’s contribution to her neighborhood is greatly appreciated by all of us. If you would like to join us, and Ilysa’s community, in helping her find a kidney donor please share her story. Thank you for reading and caring. To hear a Podcast that Lees did with The Moms click here.


are you a Freedom Seeker?

by Alison Qualter Berna

I am honored to be a Freedom Seeker!  This week I am celebrating the launch of my friend Beth Kempton’s inspiring new book by Hay House, Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love. Freedom Seeker is the story of a woman who went from high-spirited, risk-taking adventurer to grown-up, settled-down, stressed-out mother, wife and business owner, before realizing the life she had built was actually suffocating her. She discovered she was far from alone, finding women everywhere feeling stuck, anxious, depressed, exhausted, disconnected and sad. Individually it was heartbreaking. Collectively it was a huge waste of potential. So she set out to change it.

The book is full of personal stories and I am deeply honored to be one of them.  I share my story on turning 40, realizing I needed something for myself outside of work and family.  I explain the struggles inherent in raising children and working full time and my quest to re-discover my inner athlete and revive my deeply adventurous spirit. This led me to a series of adventures including guiding my friend blind athlete Dan Berlin across the Grand Canyon and back in one day, along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 13 hours and mostly recently to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in two days, in the dark.  See Team See Possibilities for more.
Freedom Seeker includes transformational tools and serves as a manual for living more and worrying less, enabling Freedom Seekers everywhere to choose the life they want, be happy and feel free.
Beth and I worked together at UNICEF in 2004... in fact I hired her over the phone, impressed by her savvy and wit. Our friendship has deepened over the years and I have been in awe as Beth’s entrepreneurial endeavors have impacted thousands of lives. You can get a copy of the book here.  Send me a note, I’d love to know what you think about it! 


10 Years - Thank You apple seeds Families

Just to thank all our apple seeds families for their support over the years?

10 years ago we left our careers to figure out a way to bring our kids to work with us.

On March 1, 2007 we opened up apple seeds.

We would like to thank all the families of Chelsea (many who have become some of our closest friends) that have supported us over the years, and most importantly, trusted us with their beautiful children. Nothing makes us happier than to walk in to apple seeds and see your adorable kids on the playground or hear them screaming out the magic number of the week in songs for seeds. We can never repay you for all the joy you have given us over the past decade.

With deep, heartfelt gratitude…

Alison, Allison, Bobby and Craig and the entire apple seeds family


Hope at the Base of Kilimanjaro

by Alison Qualter Berna 

Twelve-year-old Priella called out to me as I walked out of the overcrowded classroom in Moshi, Tanzania and simply said, “Wait, Alison, before you go…” I turned to approach her with a smile and in that moment I knew she was a kid who believed she could do more than her circumstances allowed. She wanted to fly.

A few days earlier, I had fulfilled a lifelong dream to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. I climbed to the “roof of Africa” with four friends, one of whom is blind. Together we summited in the fastest amount of time possible to set a record for an athlete who is blind (we did it in 2 ½ days) and we trekked at night to simulate, even in the smallest way, what it’s like to live in darkness.

Climbing Kilimanjaro already had inherent value. We could go home and share our story with our kids, friends and family for the rest of our lives. But our intention was to use our experience for something greater than ourselves; how could we share a message of hope and empowerment with children who desperately need it? If my friend Dan couldn’t see and yet climbed Africa's tallest mountain anyway, the message was simple: each person is capable of much more than they may realize.

On the descent down the mountain through what felt like moon sand, I was dreaming about the schools we would visit in the days after our return to Moshi. As part of the preparation for our trip, I reached out to my network and within a few months we discovered programs that support children who are blind, street children and impoverished schools that might want to share in our messages of hope. Within a few months, I had virtually connected with three principals/directors (two in Tanzania and one in Kenya) and after doing some research, holding several Skype calls and assessing what each situation entailed, we planned three events where we could share Dan’s accomplishment and inspire the children. 

At the Mwereni school for 600 sighted, blind and albino children in Moshi, Dan shared his bravery to take on the challenge of climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro unable to see. The hope in the room was palpable as kids lit up under the gravity of his message. If he could do it blind, couldn’t they?
As I took the podium, I saw faces of young girls in front of me and focused my message on what it’s like to be the only girl in a group of male friends. I asked them what they felt was possible in their own lives and what they thought might be stopping them. I challenged them to take the time to set their own intentions, goals and dreams, however small, however grand.

In that classroom two hours later, Priella’s eyes reflected that she heard me. She wanted someone to hear her intentions, goals and dreams. She asked for my email and we continue to stay connected. Perhaps with someone even climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

When you are immersed in the developing world, every word matters. Every dollar counts. You quickly realize that the material trappings of success we surround ourselves with is sometimes just noise crowding out the true connection of the human spirit and the simplest way to be.

In that simplicity you find the most  basic truths. That we all deserve a chance. That as sentient beings, we are not that dissimilar. And that all of us have hope, a hope that can carry any one of us to the top of the tallest mountain.

To donate to this amazing school and the various causes my team and I are dedicated to, please visit our website at www.teamseepossibilities.com

Thank you!


A great Saturday afternoon activity for your whole family. Join us!

apple seeds is a PROUD and devoted supporter of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

We will shout from the rooftops anything Cookies is involved in or attached to…because every nanosecond of every single day they are working to save the lives of children battling cancer.

How do they do that? They raise money all year long and use it to help to fund research to develop new and improved treatments for childhood cancers being worked on at the top 5 pediatric cancer hospitals in the country.

How do they raise that money? Through bake sales, 5ks, dodgeball tournaments and a couple of high caliber events that knock it out of the park in terms of quality + fun = major fundraising. Here is one of those events we are thrilled to tell you about because it is perfect for apple seeds families.

Family Fun Day is one of the best events we have ever been to with our kids. The quality of activities and COOKIES cannot be beat. You and your kids play & eat cookies – and you get to help save lives.

What could be better? Nothing!

Come hang out with Christina Tosi - Chef, Owner & Founder of Milk Bar and Judge on FOX MasterChef and meet some of the city's most talented pastry chefs, make holiday gifts and munch while mingling with friends. You'll leave with a bag full of gifts ready to spread holiday cheer.

Join us!

Create Hands-On Holiday Gifts:
Decorate cupcakes
Make no-bake cookie balls
Water color cookie decorating
Dip and decorate pretzels
Create sandwich cookies
Decorate gingerbread cookies
Activities Include:
Music by DJ Fulano
Custom placemats with apple seeds
Custom character sketches
by Artist Matthew Langille
Spin art with Kulinary Kids NYC
La Colombe coffee cart
Balloon twisting
Face painting
Airbrush tattoos
Snap pics in the photo booth