LA Daily News: For Cancer Patients, a Prom Like No Other

Byline: Valerie Kuklenski

Staff Writer

Like many high school juniors this spring, Fred Scarf is planning a prom.

But unlike most, Scarf’s prom is going to be a bittersweet affair.

The dear friend he’d hoped to dance with, Shiri Gumbiner, died in August 2005 of a rare bone cancer, and this prom is a production of the nonprofit Shiri Foundation that Scarf established in her memory.

The May 25 dance at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, themed “A Night in Hollywood,” is for teenage cancer patients.

“When she was in the hospital on her birthday, I threw her a surprise party,” recalls Scarf, 17, who attends Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa. “It was her 15 minutes in the sun. She was on top of the world, and I want to do that for other cancer patients.”

In the beginning

Scarf and Gumbiner met during their freshman year at another school.

“It was during study hall, and we just started talking and made plans to go see a movie, and after that we were pretty much attached at the hip,” Scarf said.

Gumbiner already had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma when they met, and her health was up and down in the time they shared. She died at age 16.

“She never wanted pity. She was always more energetic, more enthusiastic than me. And it was just a blast being around her. She had such a vibrant personality,” he said.

Scarf said her funeral gave him the flicker of inspiration to start the foundation.

“I was the first speaker at her funeral,” he said. “It was an indescribable feeling. It was horrible to see everyone dressed in black and so sad from losing this great girl.

“I wanted to do something to honor her. I got the idea of starting a charity in her honor to fight this rare form of bone cancer. I did it by using a how-to book, ‘How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation.’ I just followed the directions.”

Joining the fight

Established in September 2006, the Shiri Foundation includes Scarf’s and Gumbiner’s parents on its board of directors and board of advisers. Its fundraising includes the sale of T-shirts designed by Scarf that say “I’m fighting bone cancer by wearing this shirt.”

The foundation already has raised more than $18,000 in Gumbiner’s memory.

A story Scarf wrote about his friend in the newspaper L.A. Youth has prompted kids to hold fundraisers of their own for the Shiri Foundation.

“A student said, ‘Can I request donation boxes?’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Sure, how many do you need?’ ‘We need a hundred.’ ”

Now, on weekends, you might see Scarf, the foundation’s executive director, outside his Sherman Oaks home spray-painting heart-shaped wooden boxes a vivid pink.

In addition to the foundation’s first prom, he has established a tradition of taking a Christmas party to the City of Hope pediatric ward, with gifts personally selected for each patient’s taste. Scarf, who describes himself as “abnormally skinny,” pads himself well and suits up as Santa.

For information on the foundation and the prom, or to buy a T-shirt, visit

Valerie Kuklenski, (818) 713-3750



2 photos


(1 — 2) Shiri Gumbiner and Fred Scarf at a New Year’s Eve party in 2004, above. She died of osteosarcoma the following August. Scarf set up the Shiri Foundation in 2006, selling the T-shirts, top, that he designed to raise funds for the nonprofit organization.