Neeharika “Nikki” Pendekanti and her husband Raj, founded A Friend in Me Foundation after losing their son, Rupesh, to leukemia in 2007. Their experience inspired them to make a difference in the lives of other hospitalized children faced with a cancer diagnosis like their son.
During Rupesh’s five-year battle with leukemia, he underwent an extended hospital stay. Nikki and her family noticed how much he looked forward to getting out of his room and meeting other kids on the unit. Rupesh longed to play games, socialize and make friends and he took every opportunity he could to do so.
Moved by Rupesh’s spirit and love of community, the Foundation organizes and hosts patient social events at local children’s hospitals to help build those friendships and bonds among kids fighting cancer to try to normalize their stay. The organization is made possible by volunteers, who give their time and energy to make each A Friend in Me event experience unique and special.
“Our main objective is to help build a community for these children and give some normalcy,” says Nikki. “Many of these kids are missing out on what most kids take for granted – their childhood. It’s something we want to give them back.”
After organizing last year’s Enchanted Fairytale Prom at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, A Friend in Me is putting together this year’s prom event, “Let’s Glow Crazy” Prom 2019, on Saturday, March 16.
“Our teen patients are really excited for this event,” says Rita Goshert, manager, Child Life Program, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. “It’s a chance for them to dress up, let loose and have fun with kids their age.”
A Friend in Me also hosts a pre-prom fitting, allowing patients to choose from a beautiful selection of dresses and tuxedos before the big day.
“It’s a treat to see patients just be teens,” says Nikki. “What started as just a small group of family and friends trying to give back, has grown to so much more. We are proud to be able to provide our services and give patients an opportunity to socialize and be active.”