When medical professionals Ken Yoffe and Ellen Weisberg started publishing books for kids, little did they know that they would be changing the lives of thousands of people nationwide and outside of the US. The passion project would turn into a movement that would spark educational reform and help early cancer detection for multitudes who would become beneficiaries of the nonprofit that would come to life from their efforts—FACEPAINT Inc.
Ken is a pediatrician from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, who holds a doctorate in Genetics. Ellen is a cancer researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a Principal Associate in Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston with a doctorate in Pharmacology. When they first came together to write children’s books, the goal was pretty simple to do what they loved and impact others in the process.
The duo’s publications include a long line-up of materials, including short stories and poetry published in PKA’s Advocate, The Writing Disorder, Bewildering Stories, and Natural Solutions. They have also published several children’s geography and anti-bullying books with Waldorf Publishing, Chipmunkapublishing, and Galde Press.
Their venture would pave the way for the founding of FACEPAINT. FACEPAINT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to create a more informed public by providing access to educational books, films, and other media. There are two major areas of interest for FACEPAINT: 1) Advancing social and cultural awareness through educational materials and 2) Working to decrease the high-mortality rate of cancer due to late diagnosis. Yoffe and Weisberg believe that they have a unique approach to sending messages to the public that they feel are important and/or enlightening. They rely on their own “home grown” articles, books, videos, film, and audiobooks to achieve this mission. They have donated large numbers of print books (>20,000) to a number of recipients, ranging from single mothers to Little Free Libraries to school systems in the US, Canada and the UK. In addition to books, FACEPAINT also produces videos, film, and audiobooks for the Ellen Weisberg YouTube channel, and publishes and distributes articles (translated into multiple languages) geared toward raising cancer awareness.
The primary way that FACEPAINT raises awareness around cancer is through Weisberg’s memoir entitled From Both Sides, which first came out on the webzine Bewildering Stories. The story shares the account of one person traversing through two perspectives, one of a cancer researcher and one of a cancer patient. The memoir would become one of the fifty titles listed for the 2019 Mariner Award from the Bewildering stories editorial team.
FACEPAINT, Inc. has also started diving into film production to provide more engaging materials for newer generations. To raise social awareness, the nonprofit produced Justin and the Werloobee, an animation that adopts the story of Yoffe and Weisberg’s published children’s fantasy, Fruit of the Vine. To date, Justin and the Werloobee has been accepted for screening at 106 film festivals worldwide. The film has received multiple awards from 42 film festivals, and in addition has received nominations and finalist, semi finalist and quarter finalist statuses at numerous festivals.
The funding for the production of Justin and the Werloobee came from royalties that Weisberg received for an anti-leukemia drug for acute myeloid leukemia. The author used most of the funds for her parents’ healthcare costs and left a seed fund for the film. Following screening at festivals, this film will be used to raise social awareness and to promote altruism and bystander intervention in bullying situations. Research has shown that a child who has a strong social support network is less likely to suffer long-term effects of bullying. Justin and the Werloobee promotes friendship and selflessness as ways to combat the adverse consequences of bullying.
The film will also be used as a fundraiser to promote cancer awareness and treatment, most specifically screening in high need areas of the world. FACEPAINT is partnering with the NGO, ROKO Cancer Charitable Trust, to raise $50,000 for their Early Detection Camps in poor areas of India. FACEPAINT provided $1000 funding for the first camp in Punjab, India, which screened around 170 people.