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Rising Stars: Meet Rachel Ndembera

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Ndembera.

Hi Rachel, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My husband Daniel and I founded Sloane’s Ride after our daughter Sloane passed away from complications associated with congenital heart defects (CHD) in 2017. I recently heard grief referred to as a tunnel although it feels like a cave. So we ask ourselves: How do we celebrate Sloane’s life and simultaneously grieve for her loss?

A couple of years ago, I was rocking my son (Sloane’s twin brother) to sleep, as all parents of young children do, and thought that it would be fun to hold a bike ride in honor of Sloane’s life. First of all, bikes are fun. Secondly, my heart is whole and my body is strong so why not use it? Coming from a science background, I wanted the funds raised to support CHD research and started down the Google rabbit hole searching “who funds CHD research”. After reading about The Children’s Heart Foundation we knew that they were the organization we wanted to partner with. We are so grateful that the team has embraced our idea and trusted us with Sloane’s Ride

Our overarching goal is to honor Sloane’s short life by raising funds to support CHD research through The Children’s Heart Foundation. In compliment, our objectives include engaging diverse communities in cycling. Our event offers a welcoming environment where riders of all abilities have an opportunity to hop on a bike and enjoy the day! We launched the event last year but due to COVID we shifted and offered a virtual participation option. This ended up adding a level of excitement because we were able to expand our reach from NY across 30 states including Alaska and Hawaii and even had cyclists in Africa and Europe. We’ve decided to continue to offer the virtual participation option. It’s fun to see how many states participate.

It was through the virtual participation option that we received sponsorship from one of the partners at Ellis Painter Attorneys at Law, a firm in Savannah that organized a satellite ride in Georgia. Support for Sloane’s Ride has also come from exciting events such as the Patch Design Studio mug drop where a North Carolina-based artisan-designed special edition pottery is in support of our mission.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Prior to partnering with The Foundation, we were largely alone. It is important to share some background about The Foundation in conjunction with our story. The Children’s Heart Foundation was founded in 1996 by Betsy and Steve Peterson after losing their son, Sam, to a congenital heart defect at the age of 8. Congenital heart defects – commonly known as CHDs – are problems present at birth that affect the structure and function of the heart. Doctors were never able to explain why Sam was born with complex CHDs or why he collapsed so suddenly.

There were also no organizations that were solely dedicated to funding research into CHDs at the time – the Peterson’s were determined to change this. It’s only through continued research that children born with CHDs have the chance to survive, which is why The Children’s Heart Foundation is dedicated to funding this critical research. The mission of The Children’s Heart Foundation is to advance the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of congenital heart defects by funding the most promising research.

When we set out on this mission we wanted future children and families to have better outcomes than we did. Unexpectedly for our family lightning struck twice and our niece Adira was born with a CHD in January 2021. The defect she was born with was correctable and she is healthy and thriving today. We found out later that interestingly enough, her surgeon was one of the researchers with a project funded by The Foundation. So we know first hand that there is urgency in this work and that all funds raised absolutely make a difference.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
First and foremost I am a mother of twins, one of whom is an angel warrior who passed away due to complications associated with congenital heart defects in 2017. My husband Daniel and I founded Sloane’s Ride, a cycling event designed to raise awareness and funds to support congenital heart disease research through creating a welcoming and affirming environment for diverse riders at all ages and stages of cycling.

I am a first-generation American who grew up with an appreciation for science and is currently working as the Science/Research Coordinator K-12 at a school district on Long Island. I earned a degree in Geology and Astronomy from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and discovered a passion for teaching while serving in Botswana as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Upon returning to the United States, I earned a Master’s in Teaching from Stony Brook University. I had the privilege of teaching a variety of science courses as well as leading the robotics program at a public secondary school in Harlem, NY.

While teaching I completed an advanced certification program in School Building and District Leadership through a Collaborative Leadership to Advance School Success partnership between New Visions for Public Schools and Hunter College. Currently, I am enrolled in a doctoral program at Stony Brook University. My research focuses on longitudinal analysis of subject matter knowledge of beginning STEM teachers in the United States. I am committed to promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in the STEM fields.

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
I grew up in a family that fostered my interest in science and being outdoors. My brother and I enjoyed swimming in the ocean and romping through local woods. I have always felt most at home once I’ve had an opportunity to explore a new location by bike.

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Image Credits
Leslie Moore Jr., UNADJUSTEDNONRAW, and David Guryn

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