An Evening of Hope: ICF Senior VP Discusses the NIH Charity Gala

Todd Pantezzi, ICF International

This spring, The Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will host its fourth annual Charity Gala on April 29, 2017 at The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner. This year’s theme will be “An Evening for Hope.” As The Inn’s official annual fundraising event, all net proceeds are donated to The Inn to provide “A Place Like Home” for children undergoing medical treatment at the NIH. Best-selling author and psychological illusionist Joshua Seth will entertain with an interactive performance. The night will also include dinner, spirited live and silent auctions, and testimonials from Inn families.

WashingtonExec spoke with Todd Pantezzi, Chairman of the Gala and Senior Vice President at ICF, about his personal connection to the Gala and the impact of the organization on children and their families each year.

WashingtonExec: What differentiates “An Evening for Hope” from other galas in the Greater Washington area?

The most important aspect of the gala is that attendees are changing the lives of children around the world, and it is a wonderful experience to support The Inn while networking with such a passionate and engaged group. Most of our attendees come from the public and private sectors, including leaders from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Defense Health Agency, Veterans Affairs, and other government agencies, and they are dedicated to helping children and advancing medical research.

WashingtonExec: Can you tell us about the relationship between The Inn and NIH?

The Children’s Inn is unique because it’s a private nonprofit and a proud partner with the National Institutes of Health, with its facility located on federal property at the NIH Campus in Bethesda, Md. Being a private nonprofit means that the vast majority of The Inn’s operating budget depends on private donations.

Since opening in 1990, The Inn has provided free lodging and supportive services to more than 12,000 children from 50 states and 94 countries. For these children, a clinical trial at the NIH presents their best and often last hope. In addition to not having to worry about cost, families also know that they are part of a supportive community of caring staff and other families at The Inn. This makes it easier to commit to a clinical trial, which often means repeated travel to the NIH and many days and nights away from home, family, friends, and school.

NIH employees and leaders – including NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and his wife, Diane Baker – volunteer at The Inn by cooking dinner for the families, playing the guitar, singing songs, accompanying them on outings, and so on. It’s very comforting for children and families to see their physicians and other medical professionals outside the hospital in a relaxed atmosphere, where they can get to know one another personally. This is only possible because the NIH and The Inn enjoy such a close relationship that facilitates medical breakthroughs that help children across the world.

WashingtonExec: Can you describe the environment at The Inn and any upcoming new services you will be providing?

We have a saying that the NIH takes care of the children’s medical needs, while The Inn takes care of their spirits. The Inn provides all the aspects of a welcoming, soothing home with accommodations such as a large outdoor play park; a game room with a pool table and computer game consoles; a reflection space for prayer or meditation; three community kitchens; a teen lounge with a large-screen TV; and couches, foosball table, and an arcade console.

In addition, The Inn offers a multipurpose room and an art studio, as well as a learning center with a full-time education program coordinator. The staff strives to provide families with everything they need to ease some of the burdens of illness. That means that in addition to free lodging, families receive free grocery gift cards, free shuttle rides, and may participate in a wide range of activities – trips to museums, the zoo, laser tag, etc. – as well as more than 1,300 programs and activities that they or volunteers organize.

WashingtonExec: Do you have a personal story from a family who has stayed at The Inn that you are able to share?

There are so many stories, but one that I’d like to share is about a seven-year-old girl from Missouri named Taezia, who’s stayed at The Inn multiple times and has touched all of our hearts. She has an especially aggressive form of Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), which causes tumors to grow inside her body and around her spine. Taezia has been participating in a clinical trial at the NIH that is successfully shrinking her tumors. Without this trial, Taezia would most likely not be walking today. And with NF1, there’s always the chance the tumors could turn cancerous. For Taezia’s mother, the NIH and The Children’s Inn have been the answer to her prayers.

For the first time since her daughter’s diagnosis at 11 months old, Taezia’s mom feels hopeful about her daughter’s future, and she’s able to relax a bit. The Children’s Inn also has allowed her to breathe more easily because she never has to consider the cost implications of getting her daughter the help she needs and the associated logistical costs of lodging, buying food, and so on. That’s very important because by the time families are admitted to clinical trials, they have exhausted all other medical options and often also their finances.

Seeing Taezia run on our playground and seeing her mom smile is the best reminder of why what The Inn does is so important.

WashingtonExec: What is the fundraising goal for this year, and how will those funds be used?

We rely heavily on donations, sponsors, and partners, and our goal this year is to raise more than $1 million so we can continue to provide relief and support to children and families. Proceeds will be used to provide “A Place Like Home” and a wide range of supportive services to the more than 1,500 children and families who stay at The Inn every year.

WashingtonExec: How can people help or get involved with the Gala this year?

There are several easy ways to get involved. We love to see the WashingtonExec readers at our event, and you can also help by buying raffle tickets, donating items to our auction such as art, jewelry, trips, and experiences. It’s also helpful when people follow us on social media and share our messages about the Gala, raffle tickets, or The Inn in general using #AnEveningforHope

To learn more about the event, visit the Gala website.

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