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Pasadena Grandmother Keeps Memory of Granddaughter Alive Through Foundation

Debi Katzenberger founded the Kamryn Lambert Foundation after her granddaughter's death in 2007. The organization funds nursing scholarships and donates to causes that help sick children.

Kamryn Lambert passed away from leukemia in 2007 at the age of 9. For her grandmother, Debi Katzenberger, it was the start of a new life's work. Katzenberger had promised Kamryn that her memory would live on every day. To ensure this promise was kept, she decided to help others achieve what might have otherwise been impossible.

Using some left over funds that people had donated to Kamryn, Katzenberger started a new nonprofit that provides scholarships and donations to children's hospitals in her granddaughter's name.

"A lot of people had made donations to Kamryn for different reasons," said Katzenberger. "We found that we had about $1,200 left over in that fund. The first thing we did with it was, as a birthday present for Kamryn after she passed away, to take that money and make a nursing scholarship out of it. We would give it to a graduating senior [from the school] that her parents and all of my children had graduated from, which was Northeast High School in Pasadena."

"In October of 2007 Kamryn would have been 9, so I approached her parents with the idea of creating the Kamryn Lambert Memorial Scholarship," said Katzenberger.

This was the first charitable act of the newly formed Kamryn Lambert Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Katzenberger that takes in approximately $25,000 every year for causes like scholarships and donations to children's hospitals. The organization raises money through donations and fundraisers, including an annual hair cut-a-thon called "Cuts for Kamryn."

Katzenberger had not previously led a nonprofit and learned what she needed through personal research and her experience working with the Maryland nonprofit Casey Cares Foundation. Though her group is small compared to other nonprofit organizations, Katzenberger's undying spirit and drive to keep Kamryn's memory alive keeps the foundation giving to those who need it most.

"I never do anything small or halfhearted, but I probably gave 200 percent to this because it's close to my heart," said Katzenberger, who has also worked for 16 years as a manager with the health insurance company CareFirst. "I never have a hard time accepting that others might have an expertise that I don't and tapping into that. When I was putting our board of directors together, I tried to find people who not only cared about Kamryn but also had the skills I knew the foundation would need."

The main use of the money is for the foundation's annual nursing scholarships, which are provided to students in the Pasadena area who intend to go into nursing as a career. Katzenberger said that the scholarships are focused on nursing students because of the nurses who helped Kamryn during her stay at the hospital. 

"The critical choice to make when it comes down to it is that in order to become a nurse or anything in the medical field, you have to want it from somewhere deep," said Katzenberger. "It's a tough field and nursing is a very tough curriculum. The fact that you can overcome a hardship or some type of adversity along the way is very important to be successful."

Katzenberger added that she believed that students who want to enter the medical field needed the help.

"Kamryn had to overcome a lot of adversities when she was fighting leukemia," she said. 

Katzenberger said that the foundation has helped around 2,000 people per year. Along with her work in the foundation, she also manages the Kami's Jammies program in accordance with the Casey Cares Foundation. This program sponsors a kids' pajama fashion show each year that raises funds and new pajamas for hospitalized children.

Katzenberger said that the foundation has been an emotional experience for her.

"It might bring back not-so-pleasant memories, but we're doing what we're here to do," said Katzenberger. "We're here to help families like ours, we're here to help kids that need help. Each year when we give the scholarships, it's especially emotional—it's a bittersweet kind of thing because we'll never be able to see her graduate, but a piece of her graduates every year when we give that scholarship out. It's still a rollercoaster ride, but after four years it's more happy than sad."

"People remember Kamryn and tell me all the time about the great things that our foundation is doing in her name, about how a child got to cheerlead and so on," added Katzenberger. "They say that they wouldn't be able to do it without Kamryn—it's not about me or about what I do, it's about what Kamryn does."

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