March 24, 2019 | 47° F

Embrace Kids funds endowed chair for Rutgers

Photo by Shawn Smith |

Three attendees at the 2013 Rutgers University Dance Marathon cross the stage, clutching souvenirs from the 72-hour non-stop dance fundraising event.

In the mid-1970s, only half of all children diagnosed with cancer survived past five years of illness. Four decades later, that figure has grown to 80 percent due to advances in pediatric cancer treatment and research, according to a Cancer Institute of New Jersey press release. 

With a goal of furthering cancer research, a $1.5 million gift has been given to establish the Embrace Kids Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

Embrace Kids Foundation is an organization that provides free services for children who have been diagnosed with cancer and sickle cell disease, among other blood disorders. The foundation offers family programs and support services at no cost to the family.

Embrace Kids Foundation has worked alongside CINJ for years, but this pledge is the single largest gift ever given by the foundation, said Glenn Jenkins, executive director of Embrace Kids Foundation. 

“Funding this endowed chair through Rutgers was important because it allows children to have the best medical care possible,” he said. “An endowed chair is a symbol of support and permanency.”

The $1.5 million gift will enable the CINJ to appoint an internationally acclaimed faculty member. This person will lead the team that manages the care of the youngest of patients with cancer and blood disorders, according to the press release.

Once the endowed chair is funded, a recruited top-tier physician can know he or she will be supported on an annual basis, Jenkins said.

Dr. Robert DiPaola, director of Rutgers CINJ, said the CINJ’s mission goes hand-in-hand with the Embrace Kids mission. He expressed his gratitude toward the $1.5 million gift. 

Embrace Kids Foundation, which was established more than 20 years ago, provided more than $1.4 million in services to children and families throughout the New Jersey/New York City metropolitan area.

In the past year, Embrace Kids has opened up support to children with catastrophic health challenges besides cancer. The foundation had recently begun treating children with other genetic problems.

“It’s about treating the ‘whole’ patient and improving their quality of life,” DiPaola said. “The programs and services offered through Embrace Kids are complementary to what we at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey do in identifying and developing next-generation therapies for these children.” 

Embrace Kids is a passionate community and many who are involved with the foundation are also a part of Rutgers, Jenkins said. Ten part-time Rutgers students currently work at the foundation.

Jeris Abuhouran, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, has been an Embrace Kids part-time Family Liaison Assistant for the past six months. His main responsibility is keeping patients company in the hospitals.

“The cancer patients and their families are often in the hospital receiving treatment for days, weeks or even months,” he said. “My responsibilities are to play board games, card games … and put smiles on the faces of these children who are battling for their lives.”

Embrace Kids is involved with Rutgers in other ways. The foundation has a program called RU4Kids, which pairs Rutgers student organizations with patient families.

Abuhouran is involved in the program. His organization, the Chi Psi fraternity, was recently paired with a seven-year-old cancer patient named Taylor. The brothers of Chi Psi often visit Taylor in the hospital and recently threw a bowling birthday party for Taylor’s birthday.

Since working at Embrace Kids, Abuhouran learned that “the intangibles” are most valuable to people.

“Giving someone a hug, playing ‘Apples to Apples’ or simply talking to the kids about how their day is going goes a long way,” he said.

Abuhouran also developed a greater sense of appreciation for things people take advantage of on a daily basis. 

“I have learned to appreciate the little things in life and to appreciate the life of privilege that we all live,” he said. “People don’t appreciate what they have until it is gone.”

Abuhouran said the endowed chair is important for a number of reasons. The donation is a huge step forward in providing exceptional quality of health care for children.

Abuhouran believes the internationally distinguished faculty member that will guide the Pediatric/Hematology team will raise the caliber of care that children receive, further bridging the gap between Embrace Kids and Rutgers.

“This donation solidifies and deepens the long standing relationship between Embrace Kids and Rutgers University,” he said.

Avalon Zoppo

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