Sandy Springs residents Cheryl and Phil Yagoda started Ian’s Friends Foundation in 2006 when their son was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Ian is 17 today and a junior at Riverwood International Charter School.

A Sandy Springs-based foundation that’s working to find a cure for pediatric brain tumors is launching a new fundraiser.

Ian’s Friends Foundation (IFF) will host a pickleball doubles tournament on April 24 at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center. The event will raise money to help the foundation fund cutting-edge research.

“We really are at the forefront of research for pediatric brain tumors,” said Wendi Aspes, director of marketing and fundraising. She added that IFF is currently funding 37 projects at 27 institutions, such as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Tech and Emory University. It also has a biorepository lab at Children’s named in its honor.

Sandy Springs residents Cheryl and Phil Yagoda had started the foundation in 2006 when their 2-year-old son, Ian, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Ian, now 17 and a junior at Riverwood International Charter School, is doing well today as the family has been able to medically manage his tumor, Aspes said.

“Unfortunately, they are really one of the few lucky ones,” she said. “Pediatric brain tumors are the No. 1 killer of death by disease in children under the age of 20.”

And there’s not much money out there for research, Aspes said. According to IFF, only 4% of federal funding allocated to cancer research is for childhood cancers, and of that, just 1% flows to the field of pediatric brain tumors.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” Aspes said. “In fact, in my view, it’s criminal, which is one of the main reasons I started working with them.”

Aspes also felt called to IFF after her father-in-law, a pediatric dentist, lost his life to a brain tumor. “I just couldn’t imagine watching a child go through that,” she said.

She’s also the inspiration behind IFF’s new fundraiser, centering it on a rapidly growing sport.

“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country and just something that I’ve been playing,” Aspes said. Her brother-in-law also runs an online pickleball community called The Kitchen.

“With its growth, I thought it was a great way to have an afternoon of fun, be outside, and raise awareness and the funds for IFF,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for all ages and all levels to come out in play.”

It’s a doubles tournament, so people are asked to sign up as teams (for $100 a team). The tournament will be able to accommodate 32 to 64 teams. There are also sponsorship opportunities and spectator tickets.

To sign up or learn more, visit the IFF website.

Amy Wenk

Amy Wenk

Amy Wenk was editor of Reporter Newspapers in 2021-22.