Temple students use award to bring ‘magic’ to children in hospitals

Temple’s A Moment of Magic chapter is using a $5,000 award to enhance their virtual visits.

Mary Naughton, president of the Temple University chapter of A Moment of Magic, is dressed as Snow White as she does a video visit with Rosalie Leonard on July 31, 2020. | ARIANNA LEONARD | COURTESY

Even during a pandemic, Cinderella and Snow White haven’t stopped making visits to children in Philadelphia area-hospitals.

Temple’s chapter of A Moment of Magic, a national nonprofit that sends volunteers dressed as fictional characters to visit medically vulnerable children, is finding new ways to connect with those in hospitals amid visitor restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chapter won $5,000 from Univest Financial’s ninth annual Caring for Community Giveaway on Jan. 7, and is using it to improve their virtual programming. 

Each year in December, Univest, a financial service provider, awards $5,000 to a nonprofit organization helping its community within Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Throughout the month, people nominate entries of organizations to receive it through social media before Univest selects a winner at random, said Nicole Heverly, vice president and director of Corporate Communications at Univest.

Out of 125 nominated organizations, Univest selected Temple’s chapter, Heverly said. 

Though A Moment of Magic is operating virtually during the pandemic, their princesses and heroes are still singing Disney songs and reading stories to children who are mostly isolated from friends and family while in treatment at Pennsylvania hospitals like St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Shriners Hospital for Children and St. Peter’s Healthcare System. 

Now that many of their volunteers operate character calls out of their bedrooms, it can be difficult to make the surroundings seem “magical,” Mary Naughton, a senior psychology major and president of Temple’s chapter, said. The chapter is using some of the award money to create backgrounds that look like the character’s homes.

“Our Rapunzel just got herself a hanging castle background that she could put on her wall and do her calls in front of,” Naughton said. “It looks very Tangled-esque.” 

The chapter will also save some of the funds to support in-person events in the future, Naughton said. 

“A lot of it we will try to save for whenever in-person programming starts back up again,” she said. “That’s where a lot of the spending happens, like bringing toys to kids, travel costs and things like that.”

The chapter made virtual visits before the pandemic to reach children in remote areas without a nearby chapter, but they have gotten “very creative with virtual programming” to adjust to being fully online, Naughton said.

In March 2020, they started live streaming book readings, arts and crafts projects and sing-alongs, said Jackie Condly, vice president of Temple University’s A Moment of Magic. . 

Volunteers, or Temple students dressed as fictional characters, make video and phone calls to children in hospitals or at their homes to spend time with them, Condly said. Sometimes a hospital employee will carry the device broadcasting the call from room to room so that more children can participate.

Volunteers also participate in character portal calls, allowing kids to speak with their favorite characters through FaceTime, Zoom and pre-recorded, specialized character videos, she added. 

On Christmas Day, Naughton video called with a patient she had visited several times in person before the pandemic. The girl told Naughton, who was dressed as Snow White, about the toys and gifts she got for Christmas, Naughton said. 

Last week, Naughton called into a visit dressed as Snow White while a child life specialist carried an iPad around to different rooms to allow Naughton to visit with multiple children, she said.

“Usually we are working really closely with the child life specialists in the hospitals and getting to know them and the kids as well,” Naughton said. “It’s also always nice when the child life specialist is there because sometimes they can help the kids come out of their shell a little more.”

A Moment of Magic’s national organization started the Wonder Wheels program in March 2020, where chapter members drive through local neighborhoods to do socially-distanced “character car parades” for all children, not just medically vulnerable ones or those in the hospital. 

While Wonder Wheels responds to parade requests, sometimes volunteers entertain those within their neighborhood with special drive-by parades, Naughton added.

Going forward, Temple’s chapter hopes to continue their virtual visits and expand to reach as many kids as possible. 

“We really try to never say no if someone wants a visit,” Condly said. “It is really important to meet these kids and give them a little joy when they are going through such hard times in their life.”

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