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Obama recognizes local nonprofit for innovation
July 01, 2009, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh

A Redwood City nonprofit aimed at using research to create ideas to improve the lives of chronically-ill children was one of four recognized by President Barack Obama yesterday as an example of social innovation that should be supported by both government and private business.

In April, Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, part of which included a $50 million social innovation fund. Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council and the innovation team will begin evaluating nonprofits nationwide. Yesterday, Obama highlighted four nonprofits leading the way in this field, including HopeLab.

"We are honored to be recognized for our work by President Obama,” HopeLab President and CEO Pat Christen said in a prepared statement. "HopeLab’s products, and the research behind them, prove that technology can be engineered to be both fun and help fight serious illnesses and improve kids’ health.”

HopeLab was one of four organizations invited to attend as illustrations of social innovation and civic participation. It was recognized for its development of Re-Mission, a video game for teens and young adults with cancer, and a new product called gDitty, designed to increase physical activity for 11- to 14-year-olds as a way to curb childhood obesity.

Christen was joined by 12-year-old Richard Ross, a "kid expert” for HopeLab, who is testing the gDitty, a wearable activity monitor that tracks and saves information about their movement. Activity data can be uploaded onto a corresponding Web site, earning the youngster points that can be redeemed for rewards.

Ross ran circles, literally, around his sister as they walked to and from school to earn additional points. He also ran up and down stairs after class and cleaned his house to earn points.

When Ross first got the gDitty, he was unsure of how to use it, and forgot to sign in before going for a run.

"I ran for nothing,” he said to laughs.

Pilot studies show about a 35 percent increase in moderate to vigorous physical activities — equal to running about three-quarters of a mile per day — in those wearing it, said Christen.

"The bottom line is clear: Solutions to America’s challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots — and government shouldn’t be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts. Instead of wasting taxpayer money on programs that are obsolete or ineffective, government should be seeking out creative, results-oriented programs like the ones here today and helping them replicate their efforts across America,” Obama said yesterday.

Obama further challenged private businesses to partner with the government by providing seed money for ideas to benefit local communities.

Nonprofits will be examined and the government will invest in those most likely to create the best return. Funds will come with a requirement of matching investments from private businesses, foundations and philanthropists.

"If we work together — if we all go all-in here — think about the difference we can make,” Obama said. "Think about the impact we could have with just the organizations represented in this room.”

For more information about HopeLab visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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