Nonprofit program offers outings to kids with chronic illnesses
Nine-year-old Alisynn Thompson has spent a total of four months in the hospital this year alone. Born with a congenital condition called Sly syndrome, the feisty girl has undergone numerous surgeries in an attempt to correct severe curvature of the spine.
Spending that much time in the hospital is tedious and exhausting for both the patient and her family, but thanks to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Alisynn had something to look forward to last Friday: “I’m going to Yo Gabba Gabba!”
The Starlight Children’s Foundation arranged for Alisynn and her family to attend the Yo Gabba Gabba! Live performance at the INB Performing Arts Center.
Since 1992, the Foundation has provided outings, called Great Escapes, for children coping with chronic illness or life-altering injuries.
Steve McGraw, executive director of Starlight’s Washington chapter, said, “These families have high medical expenses, and we want to lighten their load.”
Starlight also does this by providing Nintendo Fun Centers – video game and DVD systems tucked on a rolling cart – to hospitals. In addition, the foundation provides toys and hosts holiday parties for sick children and their families. The Washington chapter serves 7,000 families each month. “We are in virtually every hospital in the state that has pediatric units,” McGraw said.
In her room at Shriners Hospital, Alisynn Thompson beamed. “I like video games.” She’d celebrated her ninth birthday the day before and proudly showed off her sparkly pink Hannah Montana purse. She also pointed to a large plush horse in the corner of her room, a birthday gift from Starlight.
“His name is Blue Jeans,” she said.
According to Alisynn’s mom, Karen Thompson, Starlight has provided many fun outings for the family over the years. “We’ve gone to baseball games, Shock football games, the fair and we saw the Wiggles.”
Alisynn’s sister, 10-year-old Jordan, added, “We got to meet the Wiggles pirate and the dog.”
Jordan has spent a lot of time in hospital rooms with her sister. “The siblings of sick kids get unintentionally pushed aside when parents are dealing with sick kids,” said McGraw. That’s why a major focus of Starlight is including siblings in all activities and parties.
Last year’s Christmas party was especially memorable for Jordan. “Santa brought presents. I got a scooter,” she said. “And Alisynn got an Easy-Bake Oven.”
Some parties were not as successful. Alisynn’s eyes grew big as she described the Easter party. “I hate the bunny!” she said. “The bunny is scary!”
Karen Thompson said the activities are “a great distraction. We get to go places as a family.” She also appreciates gifts that help pass the time, like the craft sets Starlight provided for Alisynn.
The nonprofit has found helpful partners in the community. Wells Fargo recently donated office space and furniture to the Spokane chapter. In addition, McGraw said, the Spokane Indians and Spokane Chiefs organizations have been very supportive.
Sally Mildren, director of donor and public relations for Shriners Hospital, patted the Nintendo Fun Center and said, “This is a really important piece of equipment. It brings an element of the familiar to the hospital.” She added that the video game unit is especially popular with Shriners’ teenage patients.
But perhaps the thing Mildren is most thankful for is the organization’s ability to reach out to entire families. She said Starlight is “very proactive about engaging the families in the kind of outings that are meaningful and necessary for siblings who struggle with all the attention the sick child receives. Starlight brings the fun – they’re like a party on wheels.” She smiled. “You can’t put a price on that.”
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