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Middle school student helps fund Rutgers substance abuse research

Anika Gamburg sits with Jessica Saalfield, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies. – Photo by Photo by | The Daily Targum

Anika Gamburg is a sixth grader from California who has raised money for substance abuse research in Rutgers University—New Brunswick.

The middle schooler began to raise money in fourth grade when she opted to raise money for her birthday and focus on issues of substance abuse. 

“I did an opinion piece on whether to throw a donation party and it really resonated with me. So I decided that I would do a donation party. I lost my dad to addiction, to substance abuse, and so I wanted to do something related to that,” Gamburg said. 

Gamburg and her mom, Stacy Salz, found the website Benefunder and looked for places to donate. 

She said that all the places advertised on the website were great, but Rutgers kept popping up and resonating with her.

The Benefunder CEO Christian Braemer helped Gamburg and Stalz get in touch with the Department of Kinesiology and Health, according to a newsletter on the School of Arts and Sciences.

Gamburg and her mother raised money mainly by posting on Facebook, asking for donations on Giving Day and talking to teachers. They did not have enough money from a birthday party to donate through Benefunder, so Gamburg and Salz connected with Jennifer Buckman, the associate director of the Cardiac Neuroscience Laboratory on Busch campus.

Buckman’s research focuses on the physiological changes in the body that can prevent relapse to a person suffering from substance abuse.

Together they created their own fund, the Gamburg Innovation Award, in honor of her late father Eric J. Gamburg.

Overall the fund raised $1,300 initially, Gamburg said, but last year they raised $2,648.

Gamburg reviewed applications and participated in Skype interviews for those who applied to the award, and she continues to be in contact with Rutgers after her donation. 

“Since then, we have raised enough money to do another award. The first person I gave the award to, Jessica (Saalfield), she’s almost ready to launch her experiment,” Gamburg said. 

Jessica Saalfield is a post-doctoral associate who will use the $1,000 research grant for her project “The Physiology of Successful Alcohol Education Campaigns” according to the newsletter.

“She’s doing an experiment to test what type of signs or messages to get people to want to stop (substance abuse). The first step to doing anything is wanting to. Her idea is the first step of the process (of recovery).” Gamburg said.

Gamburg plans to continue raising money for this cause and for Rutgers each year. She said she hopes that someone’s research which she is funding can help find some kind of cure for addiction and substance abuse.

Gamburg also said she wants to inspire people like her who have lost a family member, knows someone going through addiction or is going through addiction themselves to remain hopeful.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, good things can come out of bad things. It's not all bad,” Gamburg said.

Gamburg said that age is just another number and her accomplishment in raising money for this cause isn’t unusual. She referenced Greta Thunberg, a teenager climate activist who has done “more than the average adult has done.” 

Gamburg’s focus is on addiction, but she is passionate about other causes like climate change, hunger, homelessness and the current government situation. 

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