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A conversation with…Andrea Sterenstein

As January draws to a close, Case Western Reserve University students are beginning to think about snatching up that internship for the approaching summer. Amongst many others, third-year, pre-medicine student Andrea Sterenstein was doing exactly that last January. At the time, Andrea was not aware of the dynamic role that her summer 2011 internship at Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center was about to play in her life. Her experience at MetroHealth’s neonatology unit would compel her to launch her own not-for-profit organization that summer.

I had the chance to sit down with Sterenstein and discuss her not-for-profit organization, U.S. Children’s Medical Assistance Fund, Inc. – how she identified a need for a cause that fuses society’s social and medical needs, how she transformed her compassionate ideas into a plan of action, and where she sees her endeavor going in the future.


Jenna Millemaci: What is the mission of USCMAF (U.S. Children’s Medical Assistance Fund, Inc.)?


Andrea Sterenstein: Our mission is to provide medical assistance to children who come from low to moderate-income families as defined by federal poverty guidelines. We will provide medical treatment for children with physical disfigurements, including cleft lip and palate, clubfoot, and prosthetic needs, as well as corrective treatment for serious facial scars and birthmarks, to name just a few. We want to help treat physical disfigurements that result from illnesses, accidents, and birth defects.

We will be working with children within the U.S. Right now we are focusing on the Cleveland and Chicago-land areas because that is where we are based. We are contacting foster care systems, inner-city schools, and other places where we think low to moderate income families will be more concentrated.


JM: What directed you to address such a unique cause?


AS: I’ve always been interested in medicine, so that was a big part of it. But also volunteering at Rainbow Babies [Children’s Hospital] as well as working at MetroHealth this past summer helped steer me towards founding USCMAF. At Metro I worked in the department of neonatology, which is the newborn intensive care unit. Metro is Cleveland’s county hospital, so you see kids born to drug addicts or birth mothers who didn’t have proper prenatal care.

You also see people who don’t have insurance and can’t cover the cost of treatments that are deemed unnecessary because they aren’t life threatening, which many of the treatments for physical disfigurements are considered.

Children who don’t receive treatment for their disfigurements are often made fun of and they can’t live a normal life as we would see it. So I felt something had to be done, and I decided to start USCMAF.

Having been a volunteer at Rainbow Babies for the past three years, I felt that I wanted to make a larger and more permanent contribution to children’s lives. I love playing games with the patients on a weekly basis, but I thought in the long run, is that really making a difference in their lives?

I didn’t think so. I wanted to do something that would be permanent and make more of an impact on their lives as they grew up. I know that I won’t be able to do that as a doctor for many years because I won’t be practicing for many years. So I wanted something that I could do now.


JM: What was it like starting your own not-for-profit organization as a college undergraduate?


AS: I did not know it was going to be nearly as time consuming and intense as it has been. Just filing papers with the IRS and obtaining permission from the states to solicit and receive donations, there was just so much paper work involved.

On top of the paper work, I had to teach myself how to build the website and I have had to work primarily on my own on getting U.S.CMAF’s name out to the public. While it has required a lot more time and energy than I originally expected, it has been one of the biggest learning experiences for me.

Ultimately, U.S.CMAF needs to raise money, and while I am not working to earn money for myself, I’m working for U.S.CMAF to make money in order to be able to provide medical treatments and fulfill our mission.

I have definitely learned a lot about myself through this experience. It’s made me very motivated to try to make a difference…you really get to know people in a whole different light. It’s been a really great experience. And we’ve had some great volunteers who’ve stepped forward to help where they can.


JM: What has your success with USCMAF been like so far?


AS: We’ve done really well so far! In the first month we’ve had about $2000 in donations, and hopefully it will go up from there. But we’re still of course looking for physicians to be a part of our organization and looking for children who we can help. The success of USCMAF is reliant on donors and physicians but the ultimate sign of success will be the children who can benefit from our services living lives with less emphasis on their differences.


JM: What are your goals for USCMAF, and where do you envision it 10 years from now?


AS: My goal is to help as many kids as we can and keep our work based in the U.S. Our goal for 2012 is to provide medical treatment to one child. In 10 years, I’d like to be helping multiple kids a year. If we could help every child that comes to us, that would be amazing.


JM: What advice would you give to other CWRU students who want to start their own not-for-profit organization, or ignite their ideas into action?


AS: Don’t give up! I have had so many people tell me, “This is a great concept, and it’s a great cause, but there are already so many organizations like yours, and I don’t think it’s really going to go anywhere,” and you just have to push their negative comments aside and let them talk. Let them say what they think, but just keep pushing ahead. Do your stuff; advertise on your own. Don’t rely on other people. Don’t let anyone get in your way of accomplishing your goals and living your dream. As long as it’s really what you want to do, it will work out.


Donation information and more about USCMAF can be found online at

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