Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Cristian Rivera Foundation that battles deadly childhood cancer DIPG marks 10th annual event with a success story

Kenan Thompson (l.) and Leisha Ayalais. (Courtesy Cristian Rivera Fund)
Kenan Thompson (l.) and Leisha Ayalais. (Courtesy Cristian Rivera Fund)

The Cristian Rivera Foundation will have a reason to celebrate when it holds its 10th annual fundraising gala to fight a rare childhood cancer on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

The foundation has been on a mission over the past decade to find a cure for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, a rare form of deadly brain cancer mainly affecting small children. Each year, roughly 200 children are diagnosed with DIPG, and nearly all usually succumb to the aggressive cancer within 18 months.

But the celebrity-studded gala, at Manhattan venue Capitale, will commemorate a rare success story: 13-year-old Lisha Ayalais, who was diagnosed with DIPG six years ago, has defied the odds and continues to show no growth in her tumor.

”Lisha is doing phenomenal. We are going on 6 years and she is still DIPG-free,” said CRF founder John (Gungie) Rivera. “This is evidence that the work that we are doing — the trials that our doctors are working on — are effective.”

Rivera, a local music producer and promoter, started the foundation in honor of his son Cristian, who passed away from the disease at only 4 years old and is the driving force behind the event.

Though Cristian did not win his battle with DIPG, Rivera continues it on his son’s behalf, raising funds annually to help underwrite clinical trials aimed at treating and hopefully one day curing the condition.

Lisha is currently in one of those trials at Weill-Cornell Brain and Spine Center in Manhattan, working with Dr. Mark Souweidane, a pediatric neurosurgeon specializing in DIPG.

Cristian Rivera and John (Gungie) Rivera) (Handout)
Cristian Rivera and John (Gungie) Rivera) (Handout)

This year’s event, hosted by foundation co-chair Darlene Rodriguez of NBC News, will feature such celebrity guests as Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live.”

Honorees include actor Ramon Rodriguez, who will receive a humanitarian award for his recent work in Puerto Rico with the 100Roofs Project that aims to help those on the island still struggling after last year’s devastating storms by providing carpenters and training locals to become professional roofers.

It was inspiring to see his commitment to Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “It reminds me that I am not alone in my efforts to make a difference, even when facing major challenges.”

For more info on the Cristian Rivera Foundation, buy tickets to the gala or donate to the fight against DIPG, go to cristianriverafoundation.org.


Read More, visit nydailynews.com/life-style/health/ny-ent-viva-cristian-rivera-fund-20181113-story.html

Cristian Rivera Foundation Committee Member Kenan Thompson on All That, Kenan & Kel and Using Fame For a Cause — Wetpaint Exclusive


While Kenan Thompson has spent the last 13 years making us laugh on SNL, many also know him as one of the original cast members of the Nickelodeon sketch-comedy classic All That.

Characters like Pierre Escargot, Superdude, and Miss Piddlin made kids of all ages burst into fits of laughter, eventually leading him and fellow cast member Kel Mitchell to their own show, Kenan & Kel.

Here, Kenan takes a stroll down memory lane back to his earliest of glory days.

Wetpaint: You’ve been doing sketch and improv seemingly your whole life. When did you know comedy was something you seriously wanted to pursue?

 Kenan Thompson: I didn’t take it seriously until I got on Nickelodeon and saw that it was a real business. Before that, I just wanted to be on TV because I liked watching TV as a kid, like Double Dare and stuff like that, as opposed to becoming a writer and crafting my own sitcom and having that whole business aspect of the whole thing. I was unaware of that whole process.

I guess I was just a young, fun-loving kid! Me and my older brother was always quoting Coming to America, Spies like Us, 48 Hours, and all those movies, just having fun amongst ourselves.

When I started acting, doing theater stuff at a young age I was always the comic relief type roles, so I knew I had a funny bone and could make groups of people laugh, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I started getting paid on a weekly basis, then I was like, “Oh, well, this could be a lifestyle [laughs].”

Do you keep in touch with your old All That cast mates?

Yeah, me and Josh [Server] have always been really close and me and Kel [Mitchell] are really close. We had a reunion with everybody else recently, and it was nice to see everybody I haven’t seen in some years. Me and Danny Tamberelli played the guitar, he’s teaching me the guitar all the time. So yeah, there’s a little pocket of friends that I still kick it with.

What was the dynamic between you and Kel like coming up as a comedy duo?

It was awesome, because we were that close in real life. We spent a lot of time together and our families are very, very similar, with the only difference being he’s from Chicago and me being from Atlanta. Both of our mothers are very short, strict women. We’re both very family-bonded and we recognized that the first day, and we just started kicking it from there.

How did you initially link up with The Cristian Rivera Foundation?

The organization is dedicated to finding a cure for a horrible, horrible disease. It’s a brain tumor kids are getting on their brain stem. The survival rate is very, very low. I knew Cristian, I know his father. His father used to actually host a couple of the clubs I used to go to. He was always really nice to me and I lost touch with him for some years and ran back into him and he told me what happened.

What made you decide to become a board member?

When I ran back into him he invited me to be on the board and I was like, ‘yeah, sure!’ Cancer is a close issue for me; I’ve lost a few family members to it. Just to hear that this particular disease is targeting children is a horrible thing. It seemed like a no-brainer, it’s not like I have to do much.You know, show up and try to raise awareness is the least I could do.

How important is it for celebs and those with a platform to support meaningful causes like this?

I think it’s of the utmost importance. What else are you going to use your platform for than what you’re already putting out into the world? If you can use it for some other kind of positive thing, it should be almost mandatory.

To learn more about the organization or to make a donation, please visit
The Cristian Rivera Foundation.