We had the good fortune of connecting with Sharon Rubinstein-Litwak and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sharon, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
The Oscar Litwak Foundation was created in efforts to impact the lives of hospitalized children. From personal experience while taking care of my son while he spent time in the hospital setting, I learned that while the doctors and nurses do an incredible job at taking care of the medical needs of children, attention on a child’s emotional needs were lacking in the unfamiliar and scary hospital rooms. Entertainment plays a crucial role in a child’s treatment and recovery as they face uncertainty. Ultimately, even when a child is hospitalized, they still have the same needs as any other child and they still want to enjoy the regular activities they are accustomed to such as playing. After identifying this need, the foundation was born. We started with the initial project of the Mobile Playrooms (our biggest project), but over time, we have expanded to continue addressing more gaps to ensure the emotional of wellbeing of the hospitalized children, which includes distraction bags, distraction boxes and holidays in a kit. Thousands of kids benefit from our programs every day at 90 different hospitals across the US, Israel and Mexico.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Founding and working at The Oscar Litwak Foundation is something that I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams. I was working on my PhD in Health Sciences with a focus on nutrition when my son was diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys (Wilm’s tumor) at the age of 4 months. Taking care of him became a priority and my career dreams were put on hold. I fortunately was able to be by his side the 4 years that he fought cancer. After loosing his battle at the age of 4, my husband and I knew that we wanted to honor his memory and decided to do it by providing the gift of play to hospitalized children. When we saw our little boy playing during treatment it always gave us a ray of hope and we knew he was happy. We realized not every kid had this chance and there was a big need in local hospitals. We started working with two hospitals, it was not easy, initially the hospitals wanted big money donations, they didn’t know who we were and didn’t have trust on us. We had to call each hospital a few times and sell our project but once we started it became a success. And now we have waitlist of hospitals waiting to receive a mobile playroom..
At the beginning it was slow growth, but our passion was very strong as we wanted to honor his memory and we saw the smiles on the kids that were befitting from our programs, that gave us extra strength to continue going and expanding. Many hospitals said no but that didn’t stop us and we continued calling others until our program was known.
I also had 1 baby to take care of at the time and later two more so I had to split my time between being a mom which was my priority and expanding the foundation. Eventually when my daughters were older and able to help us at the foundation, it became a family effort and we were able to expand nationally and increase our projects. At the beginning I knew nothing about fundraising, I learned and people were generous, I truly believe that their donations were having an immediate impact on someone else’s life inspired people to donate.
I am grateful and humble by the experience, I get to honor the memory of my son every day while making other kids happy. I learned that although I can not control what happens to me I can choose how to respond, in this situation I chose to help others, to keep on going even with the permanent whole in my heart.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Trip up the coast, there is nothing more magical than being by the ocean, experiencing the sunrise and the sunset, listening to the ocean waves. Probably start around newport, walk the streets in Balboa Island, shop at the local stores and eat at one of the Italian places there, in an outside table, people watching, for dessert either a balboa bar or chocolate covered banana.
Take a day to go to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, bring out our childhood memories and enjoy the fun.
Venice beach embracing the different cultures, stop at any restaurant around Abbot Kinney, for a farm to table experience. Walk back to the beach for sunset.
A day walking through Beverly Hills, window shopping on rodeo, look for a small restaurant, sit for coffee and people watching.
If my friend wanted to see celebrities would take her to Beverly Glenn deli, good food, good celebrity sighting, more locals.
End in Santa Barbara, drive through Montecito, more walking at the beach, dinner at Loquita in Santa Barbara for yummy tapas. Will end the week back in The Valley, where I live now with my family, yummy Mexican food at Las Fuentes to remember our childhood, chanting until late at night while listening to my kids laugh or fight, who knows what the night will bring.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The success of the foundation wouldn’t be possible without my husband Roberto who after my son passed away right away knew that his life had to have more meaning and filed all the paperwork to become a non-profit and my 3 daughters Andrea, Jessie and Ilana who have grown in the shadow of grief knowing that they lost a brother that they never met but helping every day to honor his memory. They have each taken the foundation and grow it in their own way, Andrea started the distraction bags program through which we have donated over 3000 bags for hospitalized children, Jessie during the pandemic helped us shift our holidays at the hospitals by creating virtual holidays in a box and Ilana has volunteered and been part of helping with all the aspects from the foundation. If it wasn’t for the support of my family and the foundation supporters, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are and wouldn’t be having the impact we do
Linkedin: Sharon Rubinstein-Litwak
Facebook: The Oscar Litwak Foundation