Every week, students from the College of Mount Saint Vincent visit hospitalized children with serious illnesses, bringing magic along with them by dressing as their favorite Disney princesses.
When Kylee McGrane first watched Frozen in December 2014 — a little movie about Queen Elsa and Princess Anna of Arendelle, perhaps you’ve heard of it? — she immediately admired and connected with Queen Elsa, and realized she even looks like her. “I’ve always been really inspired by Taylor Swift and her work with pediatric cancer and suddenly everything just clicked like a culmination of all the things I loved in one,” she tells Babble. She texted her friend, Margaret McAndrew, who loved the idea, and they got to work making it happen.
After a GoFundMe campaign helped them raise $2,000 in just two weeks, they had their first hospital visit in May 2015. The organization recruited more volunteers from their college, and A Moment of Magic Foundation became an official nonprofit in March 2016.
The organization now has 40 volunteers, 20 of which dress up as princesses for hospital visits and events. Since September they’ve done 45 visits, so that’s about four visits a week. The volunteers also meet for extensive training and princess lessons.
“We cover everything from posing, dancing, singing, doing makeup, signing autographs, wig care, dress care, book reading, and voice inflection and mannerisms for characters. We also train our volunteers extensively in HIPAA laws and sanitary precautions,” McGrane tells us. “Our volunteers learn how to interact with children with varying developmental capabilities as well as making them aware of the different degrees of medical attention a child may require and ways to best support that need.”
They also learn phrases in Spanish and sign language, so they can interact with even more children, and they never put a time limit on their visits.
Another extremely important part of their meetings is the support system they create for the volunteers, especially after a tough visit. “Our trainings also include important reflections where volunteers are able to vocalize what they have seen and how to best process it due to the nature and gravity of our work,” McGrane says.
It’s amazing that these girls volunteer so much of their time to help these children, who could use the extra magic in their lives. McGrane and McAndrew explain that every visit is different. Many are individual and personal visits in a hospital or social service institution, and they can also go to play rooms where they’ll meet with anywhere from 2 to 15 kids. During visits they’ll talk with the patients, sing, dance, read stories, and do crafts — whatever they love to do! They’ve also attended events like CureFest for Childhood Cancer, where they met almost a hundred kids in one day.
“Our characters are trained to read in front of large groups of children in a way that is fun and interactive. However, sing-a-longs are one of my favorite parts,” McGrane tells Babble. “Singing a song with a child that knows every single word to every single song just shows how much of an impact the movie or specific character has. We work really hard to make sure that every [single] child has their fairytale come true!”
These visits don’t just brighten that one day for the children. As they battle through their illnesses, treatments, and rough days, those few minutes or hours that they spent with Elsa or Anna or Belle stay with them long after and keep them fighting. And McGrane says that changed everything for her.
“I think one of the most impactful moments is having families I’ve visited reach out to me days, weeks, or months after I’ve visited the child to tell me how much they still talk about that moment. I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve talked about our visits on their kid’s worst days to cheer them up, and knowing that me doing something as simple as spending time with them as their favorite character has been a memory that gets them through the rainy days has had that much of an impact on me and it has changed my outlook on life.”
The children they meet carry these magical experiences with them, and so do the volunteers.
McGrane and McAndrew couldn’t do any of this alone, and McAndrew says she’s been floored by the help and love they’ve received. Although entering a hospital to visit a sick child can be difficult for anyone, McAndrew says it’s the positivity and love she sees even in the worst situations that sticks with her.
“Something that has really impacted me is the willingness of people to jump up and help others,” McAndrew says. “It has really showed the power of love that is all around us every day. I have met so many kids, parents, nurses, and doctors with so much love in their hearts. I have woken up every day carrying this with me, and for that I am extremely grateful. All the kids and families that have let me into their lives have left a mark on my heart, and to me that is the most amazing thing in the world.”
McGrane tells us that she’s made what started as a volunteer project into her life’s work, and we couldn’t be more supportive of her mission.
“The most challenging thing for me is knowing the reason of why we do what we do,” McGrane says. “It breaks my heart that there are children that have to battle terrible illnesses and that they don’t get to experience all the magic of childhood that other children do. It truly breaks my heart knowing that there are children that [are] going through something no one ever should, and that’s why I’ve made this organization my life mission and am trying to reach as many children as possible as well as become an advocate for pediatric cancer awareness, whether I’m dressed as a princess or just as myself.”
According to USA Today, the organization plans to expand over the next few years. The plans are in place to start having college athletes visit hospitals in uniform, and 15 students have already signed up. They also plan to expand to more colleges across the country and recruit volunteers to dress as superheroes, to reach even more children in need.
And we couldn’t be more excited to see what they do next!
h/t: Elite Daily