Foundation honors Central Florida teen’s passion for helping children with serious illnesses

Erica Karlinsky started nonprofit in memory of her daughter, Nina

This week’s Getting Results Award goes to one mother who has found a way to share her daughter’s memory through a foundation dedicated to helping children with serious illnesses.

LAKE MARY, Fla. – Each year, the University of Florida hosts the 26-hour Dance Marathon at UF.

It’s a fundraising event for the UF Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville.

This week’s Getting Results Award goes to one mother who has found a way to share her daughter’s memory and continue support for the event so dear to her heart.

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When News 6 spoke with Erica Karlinsky, she sat on her couch. There was a computer in her lap and a smile on her face.

The mother lit up as she went through photos of her daughter, Nina.

“She loved sports, she loved games. She was extremely competitive,” said Erica Karlinsky, describing a photo of Nina on a soccer field, captured in full stride and just a step away from kicking the ball. “When she did anything, she gave it 100%.”

Nina Karlinwsky competing for Lake Mary Prep (Erica Karlinsky)

Nina Karlinsky was a graduate of Lake Mary Preparatory School and a freshman at the University of Florida.

“She loved kids,” Erica Karlinsky said. “Everywhere she went, she was drawn to kids. She played with them and she loved them.”

So it was no surprise that Nina Karlinsky embraced the Dance Marathon at the University of Florida, a yearlong philanthropic effort benefiting the patients of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville.

Each year, students stay awake and on their feet for a 26.2 hour event which raises funds and awareness for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“That was her passion,” Erica Karlinsky recalled. “That’s what she wanted. She just loved those kids and she wanted to help those kids.”

Nina Karlinsky at Dance Marathon UF (Erica Karlinsky)

Three weeks after the Dance Marathon in 2017 and two weeks before finals of spring semester, Nina Karlinsky was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She began treatment and was never able to return to school.

She was determined, however, to stay involved in Dance Marathon to continue raising money for the kids being treated at UF Shands Children’s Hospital. Despite her own illness, Nina Karlinsky was chosen to be a family relations captain for the Dance Marathon in 2018.

“Here is Nina with Eli, her miracle child,” Erica Karlinsky said as she went through the photos. “This picture was taken when she was sick. She’s in a wig. She’s in a baseball cap but she’s so happy to be with him. You can see joy all over her face.”

Nina Karlinsky passed away in May, only six weeks after Dance Marathon in 2018.

Within two months, her family and friends decided to continue her efforts to raise money for the kids through Dance Marathon, creating the Nina Karlinsky Memorial Team. Since then, the team has raised over $100,000 for research, education, equipment and services for children and facing serious illnesses and their families.

The For Nina Foundation, Inc was officially established in February 2022. The foundation’s goal is to continue to fight childhood diseases and support those families impacted by them.

To do that, Erica Karlinksy and the For Nina Foundation have organized a number of fundraising events and sell merchandise with the foundation logo. They’ve also partnered with the jewelry designer, Kendra Scott, and 20% of sales from a dedicated line go toward the foundation.

A summer promotion going on right now asks patrons to share photos of their For Nina merchandise while on vacation or in unique locations.

Erica Karlinsky was nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by viewer Madison O’Brien.

“What sets the For Nina Foundation apart is its unwavering dedication to not only raising funds for pediatric research, but making the lives of the children better,” O’Brien wrote in her nomination. “Erica has tirelessly organized various fundraising events, and awareness campaigns, all with the goal of advancing medical breakthroughs and improving treatments for childhood illness. Her selflessness and commitment to healing others are truly inspiring.”

Erica Karlinsky said she can only hope to match her daughter’s intensity.

“She gave 1,000% to everything that she did. And so I can’t sit back. I have to get results,” she said. “My goal is for as many people to know about Nina, to know her story and to be impacted by her story, so that they give and so that they see kids with serious illnesses, maybe in a different way. And I really want to see the kids feeling more happy, healthy and hopeful. Like Nina wanted.”

She added that is definitely what her daughter wants.

“I can feel it and I know it and everybody who knew her knows that,” Erica Karlinsky said.

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.