Interview with Barbara Haramis, Founder of Childhood Leukemia Foundation

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For over a quarter of a century,  the Childhood Leukemia Foundation has made a difference in the lives of countless young individuals impacted by this devastating disease. Since its inception in 1992, the organization has been dedicated to enhancing the efficacy of its initiatives. It continually devises strategies to address the unique requirements of children battling cancer, while improving its existing programs through valuable input from children, parents, and healthcare experts. 

Today, in addition to its primary mission, the Foundation offers insight for navigating a childhood cancer diagnosis, ensuring that families facing this challenge never feel isolated in their journey.

Q: What was your inspiration for creating the Childhood Leukemia Foundation?

Barbara Haramis: My family has a medical background. My sister is a doctor, and the initial concept came to me in the early nineties, during her residency in medical school. During a pediatric oncology rotation in an inner city hospital, she described a five-year-old leukemia patient. Day after day of intense treatment, he remained confined to his hospital bed. His parents couldn’t always be there because they worked to pay the medical bills and provide for his siblings. All the young boy wanted was a Nintendo GameBoy to pass the time, and to distract him from the discomfort of his cancer treatments.  “I knew I couldn’t take away his diagnosis, or make the treatments hurt less, but I saw that I could bring him joy through this small act of charity. And in that moment, I decided to do whatever it took to build this Foundation.” 

Q: What are some of the Foundation’s specific goals and objectives?

Barbara Haramis: Our primary objective is to provide support to children, and their families, whether it be emotional, educational or financial. We strive to make sure that no family faces this journey alone. Our program services educate, empower, and lift the spirits of young cancer patients. We also attempt to connect them with families who are going through the same thing. Our goal is for every patient to remain supported and engaged throughout their cancer treatment. Our Keeping Kids Connected iPad program provides iPads to  – to allow the young cancer patients to remain emotionally connected to family and friends at home, as well as, their schoolwork. We also offer STEAM Wish Baskets (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) to educate, inspire, and engage children to learn at their own age level.   

Q: What is your mission and vision?

Barbara Haramis: Our mission is to improve the lives of children and their families who are impacted by cancer. “For all of the miracles that modern day medicine can perform,  the healing needs of the heart, mind and spirit remain central to the fight against cancer.”  Our vision is to improve a child’s life throughout cancer treatment and ensure that they don’t feel alone in their fight. 

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since the Childhood Leukemia Foundation’s inception?

Barbara Haramis: Starting a charity is always going to come with a plethora of challenges. Of course, the major one is funding, along with matching the demand for program services in a timely fashion. We’ve also had to create public awareness for our mission and the needs of children and families we serve, while additionally navigating the regulation complexities for non-profits. We’ve met these challenges by continuing to build trust and credibility within our internal organization, with supporters, and with healthcare professionals in hospitals across the U.S.