Dr. Audie Atienza, a former Behavioral Scientist and Senior Advisor at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a passion for bringing smiles to seriously ill children and their families.
After the sudden passing of his son Xavier in 2014, Dr. Atienza created The XA Project in his honor. The XA Project is a non-profit that provides opportunities for children facing life-threatening illnesses and their families to experience the wonder, beauty and joy of dance, theater, musical and other artistic performances.
“Xavier loved to dance and sing and brought an abundance of joy to everyone he met, The XA Project is the best way I know to honor him and to share his gift with other pediatric research patients and their families,” says Dr. Atienza. “The purpose of The XA Project is simple – to bring great happiness to the families who are enduring so much.”
In October, The XA Project, in partnership with the Young Playwright’s Theater, sponsored a play-writing workshop for the residents at The Inn. Actors from the Young Playwright’s Theater brought to life the imaginative stories the children created. “The kids were all smiles and giggles as actors became frightened snakes, mischievous monkeys and exploding frogs,” says Dr. Atienza.
Dancers from the Maryland School of Dance performed “The Land of Sweets” for residents at The Inn in December. “At one point in the beginning of the performance a young girl exclaimed excitedly ‘I see ballerinas!’,” says Dr. Atienza. Earlier that month, The XA Project, in collaboration with Strathmore, sponsored Inn families so they could attend “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker” at Strathmore Music Center. “Two thumbs up from patient families,” says Dr. Atienza.
“Because of these special trips, our families laugh a little harder and smile a lot more. The Inn is so grateful for the part The XA Project has played in our families’ journeys,” says Ryan Whited, Family Program Manager at The Children’s Inn.
The XA Project is taking Inn residents to “The Peking Acrobats” concert at Strathmore Music Center on March 24th. Dr. Atienza says this will be one of many concerts The XA Project will continue to sponsor for The Inn residents. “The partnership with The Inn and other organizations is personally gratifying and brings a smile to my face, and Xavier would be very happy,” says Dr. Atienza.