The holidays are a time to share with family – to relax and take comfort in each other and family traditions. Unfortunately, many of our enCourage kids are not home for the holidays. Childhood illness does not take the date on the calendar into consideration, so our families often find themselves in the hospitals during this season. That’s why we create and support programs that bring comfort and cheer to the hospital setting in an effort to make a scary place feel a bit more like home. Children go through a lot when they have a childhood illness, coming up is childhood cancer awareness month in September, showing your support for these children can help raise awareness and support children through this difficult and upsetting time.

Each year we provide funding to hospitals nationwide for programs that help normalize the hospital experience through our Pediatric Hospital Support Program. Our friends at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center have gone above and beyond to make the entire family feel more at home when their child is admitted. Through our 2016 PHSP grant funds they created a Family Oasis, which serves as a gathering space for many activities including parent support groups, patient and sibling art therapy activities, a parent/child quilting club, yoga classes, pop-up spa days, and movies nights.

“Our Family-Centered Oasis is a wonderful place for families to come together, relax and get the support they need while they are here with us on their child’s medical journey,” shared Meredith, a registered nurse at Elizabeth Seton.

“I remember a mom who was able to hold her medically complex three-year-old the first time since being admitted because the couch offered an opportunity for her to comfortably hold her child on her lap. Another father told me how grateful he was to have a place where he could simply get a cup of coffee and bring his family together. It’s a small room with a tremendously big impact on each family’s experience here at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center.”

Another program that is positively impacting the pediatric hospital experience is the Arts for Healing Program at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital – a long term creative art therapy program supported by enCourage Kids. Pediatric patients work with art and music therapists to create art, poetry, spoken word, video, photography, music and more. They gain power and ownership of their healing process by retelling their story through art.

“I had a wonderful time going to the Arts for Healing program. There’s always a new project to do, and I like how I get to express myself in every kind of way,” explained a Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital patient. “I think the projects are wonderful because I get to un-stress myself. I get to feel calm and relaxed.”

The Arts for Healing Program is an all-encompassing program where patients can choose from almost any medium to express themselves creatively. By being able to retell their story, they feel more in control of their medical journey and more comfortable in their surroundings. The program also encourages family bonding, which can help bring comfort to the hospital experience for patients, siblings, and parents.

“Arts for Healing also helps me bond with my mom. My mom also enjoys going there because she has something to do. My mom sometimes likes doing diamond paintings, she says she finds them relaxing. The hospital can get boring, especially for her. She can get out of the room and spend time with other moms, parents or other family members,” shared the patient.

Personal interaction is an extremely important aid in the healing process. One of the most interesting and diverse programs that we help fund is Kid Zone TV at Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai, which promotes engagement and involvement both in and out of the patients’ hospital room.

Kid Zone TV delivers a variety of different entertaining, distractive, and therapeutic programs including art, music, creative writing, meditation, and interactive gaming to patients’ in-room TV sets, as well as TV’s throughout the hospital. What makes this program so special is that it allows patients who are isolated in their rooms the opportunity to directly interact with the show’s guests and cast in the studio via a call and text system.

“Patients and family members rely on the consistent daily programming for a sense of predictability and normalcy amid the fluid hospital environment,” said Cheryl Strauss, Kid Zone Clinical Coordinator. Just like a normal TV show they would watch at home, patients know exactly what times to tune into KZTV every day. “Thanks to the enCourage Kids Foundation, we’re able to bring a sense of fun, comfort, and connection to our pediatric population at large.”

Comfort, connection, and fun are all qualities we aim to provide patients and families during their hospital stay, and our tablet program aids us in that process. Pre-loaded with entertaining and educational applications, our tablets are used in a variety of ways. Peyton Katz, Child Life Specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery, recalls a time when an enCourage Kids tablet saved the day.

“We recently had a young patient on the autism spectrum who needed casts removed and reapplied to both of his legs, and previous cast applications had been quite a challenge for this child. We brought him the tablet and some headphones and he was so distracted that he seemed to barely even notice as the cast technicians did their work!”

Allowing a child time to relax and decompress through comforting items like a tablet or teddy bear, or activities like art therapy and TV entertainment, helps them feel more at home in a place that usually feels the opposite. By normalizing the hospital environment, we help make patients and families alike feel more comfortable – and during the holidays, that’s one of the most important things we can do.