For many people, having to be hospitalized can at times feel intimidating. Being surrounded by strangers and strange equipment is stressful at any age, especially for children. Thankfully, there are great organizations like A Friend in Me to bring joy and support in these difficult situations.

A Friend in Me is a non-profit organization founded by Neeharika “Nikki” Pendekanti, a mother who lost her son, Rupesh, to leukemia in 2007. She knows firsthand the emotional toll that children and their families go through. For her son, having company made all the difference.

“Through those tough times, someone helped put a smile on his face,” Nikki says. “We were at the receiving end of that kindness, once. It is our turn now to give that kindness back.”

Children need to have some sense of normalcy during their hospitalization. A Friend in Me provides this by holding events and activities to bring joy to pediatric cancer patients and their families while they are in the hospital.

“Kids with cancer miss out on what most children who go to school take for granted,” she says. “Watching a movie, going to Chuck-E-Cheese, playing on the playground. Since they cannot go to these activities, we take it to them.”

The Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute at MemorialCare Miller Children's & Women's Hospital Long Beach has worked closely with A Friend in Me for years. With its help, patients were able to attend their own special events, such as their own Prom in 2018 and 2019, and provide patients with laptops and iPads for virtual learning at the height of COVID-19.

A Friend in Me continues to provide happiness and normalcy to patients. Rosemarie Mills, a Child Life Specialist at Miller Children’s & Women’s works closely with the organization.

“A Friend in Me has made a huge difference in the lives of many of our patients and families,” Rosemarie says. “They provide a great deal of support that our patients need and we’re so thankful for all that they do.”