Neeharika “Nikki” Pendekanti and her husband Raj endured many hardships with their son Rupesh who fought leukemia for five years. During that time, Rupesh longed for normalcy, and was filled with joy when he had the opportunity to participate in fun and social activities. After Rupesh’s fight against leukemia ended, Nikki was determined to honor him and create a lively environment for other kids like him in a hospital setting.
That’s when she launched A Friend in Me, a volunteer-run non-profit organization with the goal of providing comfort and joy through fun social events and activities for pediatric patients at hospitals like MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.
“We started this organization because when our son was going through his many years of treatment, he longed for normalcy and social interaction with other kids. To honor him, we created A Friend in Me to provide normal, social activities for other children,” says Nikki.
A Friend in Me has been an avid supporter of Miller Children’s & Women’s for many years, continuously working on new and creative ways to support pediatric patients in the hospital. The organization supports patients by organizing social events where patients participate in activities such as playing board games, making music, or creating art projects. Additionally, they donated laptops and tablets for patients at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This last year, A Friend in Me began donating end-of-treatment shirts, and duffle bags, for pediatric cancer patients at the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute, celebrating those who completed their treatment. The organization personally designed the T-shirts to say, “I Did It!”, to celebrate children and their families who have accomplished this significant milestone.
Along with designing T-shirts and donating duffle bags, A Friend in Me began creating self-care packages for patients who need to stay overnight. These self-care packages include cosmetic products, toiletries, and the necessities that are essential while patients and their families are away from home.
“The kindness shown to Rupesh and the times he had a smile on his face is exactly why we do what we do,” says Nikki. “We are happy to be able to give back through these projects.”
To provide patients with a fun activity to give back to the hospital, A Friend in Me began donating hundreds of rocks for patients to paint as a part of the Kindness Rocks Project®. Each painted rock is displayed in a rock garden in front of the hospital for all to see and enjoy.
“The fun activities and donations from A Friend in Me impact the lives of each patient they reach,” says Rosemarie Mills, child life specialist, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. “These special activities truly brighten our patients’ days and provide a sense of normalcy for them. We are so grateful for the continuous support and joy they bring, and the difference they make for the lives of our patients and their families.”