She was just about 4 feet tall with straight brown hair and sad eyes with dark circles underneath. She came tentatively down the hall from her room at Children’s Hospital of Michigan pushing her IV cart.
She looked timidly into the room filled with Halloween costumes, games, face paints and more and staffed by volunteers from Spirit Halloween stores. The sad face turned to joy when she joined the party became part of the magic of Halloween.
One volunteer dressed as a pirate was particularly intriguing.
Downstairs in the hospital’s lobby Power Rangers greeted kids. Their appearance was part of Spirit Halloween’s partnership with Saban’s Power Rangers. It also has partnerships with Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol and its Shimmer & Shine as well as Dream Works’ Kung Fu Panda.
The party was courtesy of Spirit Halloween stores – those popups you see around this time of year – and is part of its Spirit of Children program. The company throws parties in 88 hospitals in the U.S. Children’s is one as is Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor and Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. It is Children’s biggest event.
Spirit Halloween supplies the costumes and other gifts.
The program started as and continues to be a grass roots idea that came from people working in the stores who wanted to make a difference.
“Our mission is to make hospitals less scary for kids and their families,” says Dennis Hicks, district manager of four stores in the Detroit area.
The volunteers were from local stores. There are 30 in Southeast Michigan.
“We enjoy coming here and meeting the kids,” Hicks says. “Seeing how strong they are makes us want to do more. We have been blessed. These kids are amazing.”
Besides the parties, the Spirit of Children program raises money to help support Child Life. Employees give and ask customers to do the same.
“Every single penny, 100 percent, of the money goes to Child Life,” Hicks says, all the money raised for the Child Life program at Children’s stays with Children’s.
“The core of generosity comes from people and the community,” he says, pointing out since 2008 about $250,000 has been raised for that program at Children’s. “It is not the generosity of a company. It is the generosity of the people.”
Child Life is a group of trained professionals with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events. Hospital stays are certainly among those. Children’s has 20 Child Life staff members, who help the children and their families understand the disease and how the hospital will fight it. The goal is to try and remove as much stress as possible.
“We couldn’t do this without (Spirit Halloween’s) support,” says Lindsay Heering, director of service excellence at Children’s.
“Our goal is to normalize the hospital environment as much as possible,” she says. “We want them to have some fun and forget the scary, painful things.”
Special events like the Halloween party help that along. “Some parents say ‘this is the first time we’ve seen our child smile,’” Heering says.
“As soon as the child sets foot in the door and into the hospital environment his or her control is gone. This gives them some control over their choices,” she says.
Since that first Halloween party in 2006, Spirit Halloween has raised more than $29 million in cash and merchandise donations and has partnered with more than 130 children’s hospitals across the United States and Canada.
Better than that. They made these kids smile and forget the really scary stuff for awhile.