The Faris Foundation 2020 Impact Report

Year Two: Fostering Hope and Healing

The Faris Foundation brings brighter days and better treatments to children with cancer.

Inspired, guided, and informed by the shimmering light of Faris D. Virani, we hold our work to his same high standards: to be bold, original, and transformative in all that we do.

Our work is focused in three key areas: childhood cancer research, creative arts programs at children’s cancer centers, and public engagement and awareness around childhood cancer.

From the desk of Faris D. Virani, Chief Angel Officer

The Faris Foundation

February 1, 2021

Dear Friends of the Faris Foundation, 

We started the Faris Foundation exactly two years ago, on February 1, 2019 as a labor of deep love, abiding hope, and service.  Our first year, we learned what made us truly unique and inimitable – we are lead by the words bequeathed to us by our Chief Angel Officer, Faris D. which gave us the clarity of both vision and purpose – what we affectionately call, his heartprint. How precious this has been in our second year, the gift of clarity in navigating unexpected circumstances. A heartprint is better than any map or compass; for it has allowed us to be adept, agile, and resilient.  At the same time, Faris’ words were a clarion call to action, a demand – to step up, show up, and serve.  

The challenges faced by childhood cancer families in 2020 were amplified by increasing isolation, economic hardship, and uncertainty on many fronts. With your support and confidence in our work, we together, in this unprecedented year, were able not only to successfully grow and expand our programs, some in the most creative ways, but also to provide direct support to childhood cancer families. We were able to show up for children and families when other organizations were forced to scale back.

Our work and dedication in our three key areas grew tremendously this year. Our art therapist, Leara Glinzak, was brought on to serve patients at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, one of the largest pediatric cancer centers in the country. The leadership at Texas Children’s recognized the critical role of art in healing, especially in this moment. We have made a bold, significant, and transformative investment in research, which builds off of decades of knowledge in immunotherapy, to bring forth a clinical trial that will give hope where there is none for children with rare solid tumors. We have cultivated new and major partners in raising awareness around childhood cancer in September and we have galvanized communities throughout the country to advocate for childhood cancer. You will read more and see it all in this report. The outcomes have not only met key milestones, but exceeded them. 

The work done this year has us poised for even greater impact in 2021 and beyond.  

We are able to bring brighter days and better treatments to children with cancer because of your steadfast partnership and support. We recognize that you have many choices for your giving and we are deeply humbled and grateful that you choose to invest in the Faris Foundation. We have much work to do – with heaven and earth working together, we have a beautiful journey ahead. Please walk beside us – we need your light to accompany us. 

Going with the flow, 

Asha
Mommy to Chief Angel Officer, Faris D. Virani 

We are emboldened by the words of Faris D. Virani

“Mommy, cancer is not hard.”

Childhood Cancer Research

If a child can say that, then the cure for cancer can’t be hard. It requires conviction. It requires a community rallying around it. And it requires deep, transformative investment.

10 research collaborations

at the FDV Ewing Sarcoma Center in 2020

“Art is my life, writing is in my blood.”

Art Is My Life

Art was a powerful force of hope and healing in Faris’ cancer journey. He immersed himself in the creative process, and in it, found pure delight and joy. Understanding the power of creative expression, we seek to bring this same joy to children and their families in the hospital by embedding highly-qualified art therapists and through other unique art programs.

172 art encounters 

with The Faris Foundation Art Therapist

“When I grow up, I will Let There Be GOLD.”

Let There Be GOLD

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, represented by the gold ribbon. Faris was always bewildered why more people did not recognize and honor this symbolic color and its cause. Let There Be GOLD is our public engagement campaign – and our work to fulfill the wish of an angel.

70,000 people activated

as advocates and donors

The Faris Foundation 2020 In Review

COVID-19 Rapid relief fund

It’s wonderful to be able to offer a family immediate support as they are expressing despair over the well-being of their family. It’s not often that there is something that can be done right then and there.

– Social worker, Texas Children’s Cancer Center

March – December 2020

69 families supported with gift cards + care packages distributed through social workers at Texas Children’s Cancer Center

6 families supported with financial assistance in collaboration with Heroes for Children

8 families supported with funeral expense assistance in collaboration with Heroes for Children

100 individually-packaged art and music kits provided for patients at MD Anderson

 The Faris Foundation enthusiastically stepped up to help at the perfect time. Thanks to the art and music kits, our patients have created dozens of imaginative art projects, jammed out in their hospital rooms, and been able to flex their creative muscles in numerous other ways during this difficult time. Life is a bit different during COVID-19, however, we are thankful that our programming can continue to help the young patients that we serve feel better, utilizing the arts as a way to reach that goal.

– Zachary Gresham, Arts in Medicine Program Director, MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital

CHILDHOOD CANCER RESEARCH

Faris D. Virani Immunotherapy Scholar Award

Research Progress Report

Investigator: Sujith K. Joseph, PhD

Developing Sarcoma-specific T-cell Platform for Grafting Chimeric Antigen Receptors

Report Period: January – December 2020

Our findings broadly support immunotherapeutic targeting of endoglin [a sarcoma-expressed protein] using CAR T cells […] This partnership has helped us to accelerate our research efforts to develop less-toxic, cutting-edge treatments for childhood cancer.

– Dr. Sujith Joseph, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center; The Faris Foundation Immunotherapy Scholar (2019-2020)

Research progress:

  1. We successfully designed and synthesized a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) molecule to target a sarcoma-expressed protein named endoglin.
  2. Donor-derived T cells expressing the CAR molecule demonstrated specific killing against sarcoma cell lines expressing endoglin.
  3. The anti-tumor function of endoglin CAR T cells was confirmed using an animal model of Ewing sarcoma in collaboration with Dr. Jason Yustein’s lab at the Faris D. Virani Ewing Sarcoma Center.
  4. The findings broadly support immunotherapeutic targeting of endoglin using CAR T cells.

Future Directions:

  1. Test various endodomain designs to further refine CAR design and optimize function.
  2. Validate the in vivo function of CAR T cells in multiple sarcoma models.
  3. Optimize generation of antigen-specific T cells against other intracellular autoantibody targets identified in the study.
  4. Extend identification of immune response targets to other patient samples in the clinical trial cohort.

HEROS 3.0 Advanced Sarcoma Clinical Trial

$1.4 million grant over three years

The work done through our Immunotherapy Scholar Award continues with our recently announced multi-year investment in the HEROS 3.0 clinical trial, led by Drs. Meenakshi Hegde and Shoba Navai, with Dr. Joseph on the team as well.

The Faris D. Virani Ewing Sarcoma Center

The Faris D. Virani Ewing Sarcoma Center at Texas Children’s Cancer Center (an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center) was established in 2014 with a little over $1,000 in seed funding from Faris’ personal piggy bank, and is the world’s only comprehensive research center dedicated to Ewing sarcoma. Part of the Solid Tumor Programs at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, the FDV Center is dedicated to advancing the research and treatment of Ewing sarcoma, the second most common bone tumor in children, as well as other sarcomas. A global leader in research and clinical care, the Center also hosts international symposia, an undergraduate internship program, a youth ambassador program, and is home to world’s only round-the-clock access line for anyone affected by Ewing sarcoma.

2020 Highlights

Despite the unique challenges faced by researchers in the midst of a global pandemic, the team at the FDV Center made remarkable progress over the past year. 

  • Several publications, including a landmark paper on targeting PAKs in Ewing sarcoma (link).
  • The development of a clinical trial for the use of Tegavivint, a beta-catenin inhibitor, in pediatric patients.
  • Collaborations with researchers and labs at Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, St. Jude’s Research Hospital, among other institutions. 

Art Is My LIfe

Pilot Program: Embedded Art Therapist at Texas Children’s Cancer Center

Progress Report

Leara Glinzak, MSAT ATR-BC, The Faris Foundation Art Therapist at Texas Children’s Cancer Center

Report Period: October – December 2020

When I see patients smile or hear them say “thank you,” after an art therapy session, I know that I have created a positive impact in their young, courageous lives; for that I am so grateful. As much as I have enriched their lives, they have enriched my life too.

– Leara Glinzak, MSAT ATR-BC, The Faris Foundation Art Therapist at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers

The Faris Foundation Art Therapist is the first art therapist dedicated to working with Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center patients and families. Since October 1, 2020, this much needed team member, Leara, has worked with patients admitted to the hospital across acute and intensive care units.

Leara guides the patient with art therapy sessions to meet their psychosocial needs and often times the art therapy sessions include caregivers. There is a powerful connection between a child and their caregiver. In the vignette below, Leara shares a patient story illustrating this deep bond and the value physical items may have on being able to cope through difficult moments.

Click for Patient Story

“When I worked with a three year old with leukemia, I noticed that he seemed excited to show me pictures of himself, and he continued to touch the images. He was scheduled to be discharged right before Christmas so I facilitated an art therapy session to create clay ornaments and normalize the hospital experience. The patient and his Mom worked together on two separate ornaments while I facilitated and used a Polaroid camera to take keepsake photographs. The patient smiled as he looked at the photos and excitedly told his Mom that he could see himself in the photo with his Mom. He then touched his Mom’s cheek with the tip of his finger and sweetly said, ‘It’s you.’ He repeated this several times and looked back and forth between the picture and his Mom. She smiled and asked to keep one of the pictures in her bag. The patient took the other picture and continued to touch the faces with a smile on his face.
Hours later when I returned with the ornament, his Mom was having a quiet conversation with the medical team. The patient was sitting on his bed away from everyone and stroking the faces of him and his Mom in the picture that he held in his hands.”
– 3 year-old male with leukemia

Art therapy sessions support patients’ coping skills and foster resiliency. Leara works with patients at various stages in their cancer treatment and adapts sessions to the patients’ psychosocial needs. One patient was losing her vision because of her cancer treatment. Her story is an incredible display of spirit and work being done within art therapy sessions.

Click for Patient Story

“When I met this patient, I was struck by a brilliant playful energy with a small giggle attached to it. Our art therapy session involved material and gel sticks that when applied, made the paper very smooth. When the patient added the gel sticks to the paper, she squealed and found joy in feeling the art materials. She insisted that her Mom try the materials. Her Mom had a similar reaction! We practiced intentional mark making, and then the patient started to write her name and create shapes. I asked her to close her eyes and press the material hard on the paper. As she followed the lines with her fingers, I encouraged her to use her imagination to see her artwork. She suddenly opened her eyes and realized that if she pressed hard on the marks, she could also see the vibrancy of color blend into the paper. This patient became quiet as she looked over her artwork closely and carefully touched her markings then stated, ‘I’m done’.”

-8 year-old female with leukemia

Our vision is to have art therapy integrated into the comprehensive, personalized care of patients. This next story shows how art and working with an art therapist as a part of the patient’s team can truly affect the child.

Click for Patient Story

 “When I entered this patient’s room she was lying down with her Dad and had tears in her eyes. I offered art therapy materials and she let me stay. Since she didn’t move I gave her choices.  She chose foil. While I prepared the project, she continued lying down and explained the difficulties she experienced that morning. When I finished with the laminating phase, I offered for the patient to press the foil down. The patient and I pressed it together and I offered for her to peel it off.  She peaked under the foil then sat up immediately and peeled it off quickly. This patient smiled, shared how amazed she was by what happened and asked if she could do it again.

Later, a Child Life Specialist (CLS) was working with the patient and introduced an art prompt for the patient to create a superhero. The patient created a picture that included our therapy dog Elsa, the CLS, and the art therapist as her superheroes.

This patient displayed her superhero drawing proudly alongside her pieces of artwork that she had created throughout her admission.”

– 7 year-old female with aplastic anemia

Let There be GOLD

Faris D. Virani, during his three year journey with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing Sarcoma, was always bewildered by why more people didn’t recognize the gold ribbon and September as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month the way they recognized and rallied around other causes. He asked: “Don’t children matter? Aren’t we important? When I grow up, I will Let There Be GOLD.

The Faris Foundation, inspired by the shimmering light of Faris D., is emboldened by his words. Faris was never able to fulfill his wish or see the support of communities around the cause. It is now our highest calling to fulfill the wish of an angel.

Every September, we deepen our commitment to this cause through our public awareness campaign called Let There Be GOLD. We honor every child, family, and angel during the month of September by raising awareness and education around childhood cancer so that our children will have brighter days and better treatments. 

I don’t think anyone understands how it feels to have someone support a cause so serious that you are battling…This warms my heart and makes us smile. Compassion goes a long way and is never forgotten.

– Rowlan’s mom

PUBLIC ART

Aligned with our core belief that every child with cancer should have access to art as a part of their treatment plan, this year we introduced a brand-new series of public art initiatives to raise awareness around childhood cancer.

Anat Ronen: Let There be GOLD Famed artist Anat Ronen collaborated with The Faris Foundation to create a one-of-a-kind “anamorphic” street painting that shines a light on the experiences of children and families affected by cancer. 

Art Is Hope Curated by our most talented artist and art teacher, Lauren Taylor, Art Is Hope is a an art competition and exhibition featuring works from over 60 artists from around the world. Our gratitude to each of the artists for submitting their beautiful pieces and to our panel of judges, who had the challenging task of selecting five artists to receive awards, as the caliber of submissions was truly stellar! Top accolades are awarded to Caroline Ryan for her work “Dreams”; Blythe Zemel for “Fly Free”; and Amanda Wescott for “Art is Hope.” Honorable mentions are awarded to PM Neist and Tanya Gantiva Richards. Visit the virtual gallery for an immersive and artful experience!

Art Is GOLD A series of artist-led virtual art workshops released every Saturday in September. Each video in the series features a different gold-themed art project – you can continue to enjoy these free art classes here.

DIGITAL + MEDIA 

  • Press coverage in 13 media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle and Great Day Houston.
  • Influencer engagement resulting in 1 million impressions.
  • Total audience of 4 million, through press and social media combined.

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

  • Proclamations and resolutions, recognizing Let There Be GOLD and the month of September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, issued by: Harris County, Fort Bend County, the City of El Paso, and the State of Texas
  • Let There Be GOLD presented to Congress by Representative Pete Olson.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

We are grateful to Prime AT&T, our GOLDEN partner for the 4th year in a row, and to our shiny new partners: Sun Com Cricket, the AT&T Employee Angel Fund, and Club Pilates of Houston Heights, Memorial, and Katy. With in-store and community events galore, along with corporate contributions, you all came together to raise a staggering $750,000 – every dollar of which will go directly to research and programs that bring hope and healing to children with cancer. 

This campaign has been very near and dear to my heart because no child should ever grow up in a hospital bed. Those that do, should never have to fight alone.The impact “Let There Be Gold” makes on both myself and the team is hard to put into words. It truly makes me feel like we are more than just the job, more than just sellers, we are advocates and soldiers for these kiddos. And we DO make a difference! 

– Aria T., AT&T District Manager

GOLD CELEBRATIONS AT CHILDREN’S CANCER CENTERS

In-patient Carnival For many children at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, this September’s GOLDEN Carnival was a rare opportunity to leave their room and enjoy a sparkling celebration. The Faris Foundation Art Therapist at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, Leara Glinzak, worked with kids and families, as well as hospital staff, on a gold-themed collaborative art project.

 

Celebration of the Arts at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital This year’s “Celebration of the Arts” was a cyber-celebration, with a star-studded virtual talent show and dance party, featuring the a wide range of talents and masterpieces from young performers and artists at MD Anderson. To go along with the online event, The Faris Foundation also provided gold boxes full of art supplies, gold decor, and books, so that kids and families could have their own special celebrations – whether at home or in the hospital room.

 

 

Our Glowing Community

A deep bow of gratitude to our innumerable supporters, new and sustained friends, and customers at AT&T stores who we never got to personally thank. Your faith and investment in our work, especially in this difficult year, has enabled the tremendous impact that you see in this report. You have brought brighter days and better treatments to children with cancer, and for that, you have our humble gratitude. We cannot do this – it is a daunting calling – without our community of light and love – our glowing community. 

A special recognition to the Prime team throughout the country: your commitment to this cause inspires us every day. 

For a full list of our corporate and community supporters, see here

Onwards

Our uncompromising vision is to be bold and transformative in bringing brighter days and better treatments to children with cancer. This is only possible with the generosity of your spirit and support. We invite you to share your light as we follow the heartprint of a sweet nine year-old.

 

“Winning is the only option.” – Faris D.

Faris D. Virani
Chief Angel Officer
The Faris Foundation