When Brad Nirenberg found out his best friend’s daughter had an aggressive spinal cord tumor at the young age of 2, he immediately wanted to do something about it. With the help of his friends, the Arlington-based entrepreneur gathered a small group of about 20 people for a poker tournament to raise both funds and the spirit of his friend, Jeff Snyder.
That was 15 years ago. Today, the friendly poker tournament has transformed to become Chance for Life, one of the largest charity events in the Washington, DC region happening on Saturday, Feb. 22 at MGM National Harbor.
As the CEO and founder of experiential marketing agency RedPeg, Nirenberg has utilized his expertise to curate a one-of-a-kind event to help end pediatric cancer, featuring a day-long poker tournament, an evening celebrity chef tasting with nearly 30 local chefs and an after party. As for the latter, the highlight of the night is the surprise celebrity entertainer who makes an appearance, which in the past has included stars Robin Thicke, Blues Traveler and Joe Montana.
The tasting portion of the affair is also highly celebrated, as chefs from the region’s most-esteemed restaurants share specialty cocktails and dishes. This year, chefs include Opie Crooks of Adams Morgan-based A Rake’s Progress; Scott Drewno, Danny Lee and Angel Barreto of newcomer Anju; Kevin Tien of Emilie’s; and many more.
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Of the 29 chefs from the DMV making an appearance at this year’s event, two are leaders of NoVA-born concepts—Victor Albisu of Taco Bamba and Peter Saran Kannasute of Yume Sushi. Here, they share their take on the upcoming affair.
You’ve both attended this event before. What’s it been like and why do you think it’s important?
Chef Albisu: I’ve done it every year and there’s great energy. There are so many charity events here and they are all worthwhile, but this one stands out from the perspective of how much fun everyone is having while they are giving. It’s lighthearted for a serious cause. They bring so much positivity to it, and it just has a great feeling.
Chef Kannasute: The charity supports these special children, and kids of our future. So, we need to support them. For us, it’s special because we [Peter and wife, Cici] have two kids and it means a lot to us. We want to appreciate these people who are spending their time working toward this cause.
What are you most looking forward to about the Chance for Life event this year?
Chef Albisu: I hope to be involved with this way into the future, it’s one of my favorite events. The ability to come together with restaurateurs really feels good, and I love that it’s not hundreds of restaurants, it’s a few. That gives us the opportunity to lean into the experience for the guests.
Chef Kannasute: I’m excited to help bring people together and share my creations of food while raising funds toward a meaningful subject.
What food will you be preparing this year?
Chef Albisu: We will be doing some funky, spicy tacos. We are still working on it but we have a pretty spicy chipotle mushroom taco that is fun, and we are creating another one right now.
Chef Kannasute: This year, I will add a sake tasting bar to complement the dishes, and we will serve specialty cocktails too. As always, there will be traditional sushi rolls. I am also including a scallop shooter, which will be inside a lemon shell to add fragrance.
For Nirenberg and his wife, Callie, who is also a founder, elements like the surprise guest and gourmet tastings are what make this event special.
“For people to want to take part in a cause, you have to connect to the heart and the minds,” Nirenberg explains. “Then they make the conscious decision to donate, get involved, to sponsor. They have to believe what we are doing. And when you create an experience that people have an emotional reaction to, they are more likely to invest.”
According to the National Pediatric Research Foundation, of the billions of dollars spent annually on cancer research and treatments, just 4% are dedicated toward treating childhood cancer. Over the course of 15 years, Chance for Life—now a certified nonprofit—has raised $6.5 million in support of childhood cancer research. This year, the goal is to make $3 million as a result of the event.
As the foundation has grown, it has partnered with Children’s National and Alex’s Lemonade Stand to help fund research and trials. The most recent work by Chance for Life has led to research initiatives that give 16 children and families the resources needed to successfully fight the battle of childhood cancer.
Each year, Jeff Snyder’s now 17-year-old daughter, Kennedy, steps on stage to share a word with the attendees and, according to Nirenberg, she is a guiding light for people in a similar situation.
“Every time Kennedy comes up is another year she is with us,” says Nirenberg. “This event is a trampoline for her and always has been, even when she was having a bad day with chemo or radiation. The powerful spirits of 1,000 people saying, ‘You’re incredible; we’re behind you’ … it’s great medicine. And she inspires others. It’s a great gift to be able to give hope to these families going through the worst moment of their lives.”
While the Chance for Life event is sold out, those who are interested in donating to the cause can do so here.
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