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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Alumna’s charity organization earns her a scholarship

Recent UC Davis graduate and founder of charity organization Red Balloon, Jennifer Allison Tran, was recognized for her philanthropy efforts with a greater prize than she ever imagined: a $10,000 scholarship.

Red Balloon’s success in raising money for children’s education and music therapy in hospitals won Tran the scholarship contest sponsored by AT&T and DoSomething.org, which sought to recognize and reward the hard work of young adults. The contest awarded 26 scholarships totaling $35,000 and generated over 1,000 video submissions.  

Tran founded Red Balloon in 2006, the same year she began her studies at UC Davis as a neurobiology, physiology and behavior, and English double major. The program began by providing educational scholarships for children in Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia, funded by an annual benefit dinner and concert.

In 2008, Tran transitioned her fundraising focus to children in California after being directly affected by her work in the UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

“I realized a huge part of my heart lived at the UC Davis Children’s Hospital where I had been volunteering all year. So in that year, I took Red Balloon into a new direction and since then, we’ve been helping sustain and sponsor the music therapy programs at the hospital,” Tran said.

Tran has hosted an annual benefit rock concert for the last five years to raise more than $12,000, while simultaneously raising awareness for music therapy and supporting these programs at California hospitals.

As a result of her fundraising, Tran was able to purchase drums and a Macintosh laptop for UC Davis Children’s Hospital. The laptop can utilize the Garage Band program and has the ability to record relaxation and ground exercises for patients.

Kathy Lorenzato, music therapist at UC Davis Children’s hospital, said that the music offers something normal to children who are already terrified by the time they reach their floor. After being poked with numerous needles and having so many tests run, the music offers a sense of normalcy.

“There is definitely a need for music therapy,” Lorenzato said. “For kids, music is something normal for them.” 

Diana Sundberg, therapy manager at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, also backed the Red Balloon project and sang high praises for Tran.

“Her creativity has provided funds that we otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Sundberg said.

Tran said that Red Balloon has given, and will continue to give, other people the opportunity to help children as she does every day as a medical student. Tran was particularly inspired by a child she met in the hospital. The child was diagnosed with leukemia, but Tran said that never affected the young girl’s demeanor.

“As only a child, she knew pain more than I will probably know in my lifetime but she still smiled so much and her contagious laughter inspired everyone to never take life for granted,” Tran said.

Tran will be using her winnings to help fund her journey through Touro University, where she is now a medical student, in addition to raising awareness for music therapy programs and assisting in the continuation of these programs throughout children’s hospitals in California.  

As sole founder of the organization, Tran is responsible for much of the footwork that goes along with Red Balloon. However, she also encourages anybody to get involved in the organization by e-mailing her at redballon.staff@gmail.com.

The name of the project was inspired by a French film in which a single red balloon is responsible for changing a young man’s life.

“The balloon became [the child’s] best friend! If one balloon can do that, imagine what a bunch of balloons can do,” Tran said. “I took the idea that something so simple as a red balloon could change a child’s life.”

MICHELLE STAUFFER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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