The Tenacious Erin Ryan

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Our work provides daily opportunities to learn and be inspired. It can also challenge assumptions, and we can all use a dose of that now and then.

For me, one of those opportunities unfolded when I met Erin Ryan, a high school student who requested funding for research on osteosarcoma, a rare cancer that strikes youth and has a dismal survival rate.

After losing two classmates to the disease, Erin set out to raise funds for a dedicated osteosarcoma researcher at the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute, a small lab in Beaverton, Oregon, dedicated to pediatric cancer research.

You see, pediatric cancers are not a priority for pharma and large research institutions because there is little profit in the mix. As a result, children receive therapies designed for adults, and rare pediatric cancers are virtually ignored.

These are facts, by the way, I learned from the tenacious and well-prepared Erin. I assumed this effort was for her senior class project. When we met—her mom drove her to the meeting—I was surprised to learn she was 14 and had raised $20,000. One month later she had $40,000. By the time Erin met with the Kuni Foundation Board of Directors to make her pitch, she was 15 and closing in on her $160,000 goal.

By then I wasn’t surprised by anything Erin accomplished. We issued a challenge grant, matching all remaining funds raised 3-to-1. Erin quickly closed the gap, resulting in a $52,000 contribution from the Kuni Foundation.

But she didn’t stop; she continued raising money, far exceeding her original goal. Erin isn’t a scientist, but she became an osteosarcoma expert by working with researchers to determine how she could make an impact. Her efforts support vital cancer research that is woefully underfunded, and she accomplished this feat before earning her driver’s license. Erin profoundly inspires us all at the Kuni Foundation, and demonstrates that leadership is not about age, tenure or title, but determination, vision and compassion.

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