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“I Lead With My Heart And Never Say NO To Anything That Can Help Further Our Mission” With Derek Alpert of Concern

Derek Alpert, the full-time president of the Concern Foundation, since September of 2001. Derek first became involved with Concern as a young adult in 1979,and was one of the founders of Concern 2.

“Everybody will be touched by cancer in their lifetime. I’m driven to make sure that when you or someone that you love is given that diagnoses or the words, “you’ve got cancer” it won’t be a fatal statement. I’m also highly driven by the children that have cancer and the unfairness of that reality. I volunteer twice a year to be Santa at CHLA on Christmas and for Christmas in July and it reminds me of why I continue to do what I do. Concern also hosts two events for cancer patients and families to also remind our donors and volunteers of the faces that will benefit from the research that we fund.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Alpert, President of the Concern Foundation, whose main goal is to conquer cancer by providing funds to support the early stages discovery when it comes to cancer. Since its inception 50 years ago, the Concern Foundation has raised over $60 million dollars in salary to over 750 cancer researchers. Every year the foundation hosts their annual Block Party with it being the largest fundraising event for the organization. The Block Party itself has raised over 1 million dollars in the previous years, and continues to grow every year. This year mark’s the event’s annual 44th block party on the foundation’s 50th anniversary.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My involvement with Concern began in 1979 when I was invited by some friends to be a part of the second generation of Concern called Concern 2. We were all young adults in our early to mid-20s and the idea was to get young people involved at an early age to support cancer research and be “groomed” to take over the Concern Foundation when we reached 40. I was in the music business at the time, had no connection to anyone with cancer and was not sure why I wanted to add this to my busy life. I went to the first meeting at Children’s Hospital LA and listened to a cancer researcher talk about cancer cells and thought “why am I doing this?” He then took us to the fourth floor of the hospital which was the cancer floor and for the first time in my life I saw kids with IV’s in their arms, no hair, parents and siblings crying and I then began to sob uncontrollably myself. It was at that moment that I made the personal commitment to everything that I could to help raise funds to conquer cancer. I was one of the founding members of Concern 2 and was a volunteer leader from that day on, and when the company that I worked for was sold in 2001, I became the organization’s full time President.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

This year is our 44th Annual Block Party and the organization’s 50th year. We have over 70 food and beverage vendors all donating, 3 stages of music, a full gaming casino for prize packages, a live and silent auction and we have sold over 3,500 tickets so far and raised just over $1.5Million for cancer research. We have great honorees too this year. We are honoring Dr. Jay and Kris Calvert and their family as our cancer crusaders and John Ferdenzi is being given our Spirit of Concern Award (which will be a surprise for him). Below is some background for you: Other events throughout the year include a Soul Cycle event, young families and young adult event with our now third generation Concern Now group and we are one of the official charities of the LA marathon. We are the number 2 fund raising organization as part of the marathon with over $210,000 raised this year (nearly $1Million in our 9 years with the marathon).

So how exactly does your organization help people?

CONCERN Foundation has raised over $60 million for cancer research during its 49-year history. Since 1968, Concern Foundation has funded well over 750 pediatric and adult cancer researchers worldwide studying many forms of cancer, primarily in the areas of immunology, immunotherapy, and the genetics of cancer. Concern specifically funds researchers who lack financial support for their first major research project and provides critically needed start-up funds for promising projects. By focusing funding to new investigators, Concern helps to bridge a gap that currently exists in the scientific research community. It is difficult for new investigators to obtain initial grants from major funding sources without sound data. At the same time, it is difficult to obtain sound data without funding. Concern Foundation for cancer research has proudly supported basic scientific research on the immune system and cancer since our founding in 1968. This basic work is the foundation of the entire field. Exploring open-ended questions is a proven way to go beyond what we already know and find what we didn’t know in advancing this highly promising new class of treatment. Because of this investment, cancer immunotherapy today is a highly active and exciting field, with unprecedented potential to deliver on the decades-long promise of discovering, developing, and delivering safe and effective treatments that make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients fighting the disease. Our primary aim and continued focus is to fund cancer research scientists to more fully understand the fundamental principles of tumor immunology. To do this, our scientists explore the basic components of the immune system, seeking answers to questions like how the immune system recognizes cancer, how cancer evades immune attack, and how the anti-cancer attack is coordinated at the cellular, genetic, and molecular levels. Guided by an international panel of the world’s leading cancer researchers and cancer immunologists, we seek the best talent in the field, recruiting young scientists and focusing their skills and imagination on helping us achieve our mission to conquer all cancers through immunotherapy and basic laboratory science. Our decision more than 40 years ago to attract and support emerging scientific leaders has ensured a steady stream of expertise in tumor immunology. This, in turn, has directly led to many of the new immune-based cancer treatments that are now revolutionizing cancer patient care. Concern Foundation provides essential funding to support the early stage of discovery within the laboratory of the most promising cancer immunotherapies for patients.

Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?

Today there are more people surviving cancer and in fact over 85% of children diagnosed will survive. We [Concern Foundation] have impacted the area of immunology by helping scientists understand cancer and to understand how the body’s natural immune system can begin to repair itself. Many of the young investigators that we have funded have gone on to head up their own laboratories thanks to the seed-money that we provided them to start their careers.

This obviously is not easy work. What drives you?

Everybody will be touched by cancer in their lifetime. I’m driven to make sure that when you or someone that you love is given that diagnoses or the words, “you’ve got cancer” it won’t be a fatal statement. I’m also highly driven by the children that have cancer and the unfairness of that reality. I volunteer twice a year to be Santa at CHLA on Christmas and for Christmas in July and it reminds me of why I continue to do what I do. Concern also hosts two events for cancer patients and families to also remind our donors and volunteers of the faces that will benefit from the research that we fund.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The government needs to continue to fund basic research which is the root of all discoveries and private businesses and corporation need to support small organization like Concern that are doing big things throughout our country and around the world to help conquer this disease. It takes a village as the saying goes and we need more support to grow our village and have an even greater impact. Conquering cancer won’t happen until we give researchers the funding and tools to understand the disease and that funding must come from government and private support.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I think it would be the first researcher that I heard at CHLA, Stuart Siegel. He became a friend and he taught me all about cancer, the importance of research and what a difference can be made. Also my family who taught me to lead with my heart and to give back as much and as often as possible. If everyone did just a little bit, we’d be in a much better place.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Honestly, there isn’t anything that comes to mind. Each day is a new adventure, a new experience for me and while there are rules that govern a non-profit, I lead with my heart and never say NO to anything that can help further our mission. I hope that someday cancer will be eliminated, but in my mind with what I know today, that day will never come. Cancer is treatable and “curable” but will never be gone completely. We want people to be able to manage their cancer and live normal and “healthy” lives with cancer. My dream was always to be here for our final event so that we could close the door because cancer has been eliminated, but that dream is not realistic. I want to be able to raise as much money as possible for research and get the answers as quickly as possible to understanding cancer. I want my children and my grandchildren to have hope that they will hear about less people diagnosed with this disease.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see just see this. :-)

I would treasure being able to sit with and talk to anyone and everyone that would like to be a part of a very special organization that is making a difference. People with compassion, conviction and empathy. President Obama, President and Mrs. Clinton, Justice Ginsberg, Bill & Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Joe Biden are a few that come to mind. I want to share our common values and discuss how to engage and motivate more people to get involved in doing for others. People who lead with their hearts.

If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.

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Authority Magazine

Authority Magazine is devoted to sharing in-depth interviews, featuring people who are authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech