Project Sunshine has been a prominent organization on the St. John’s Queens campus since I first entered the school as a freshman, which has made me curious about them and their mission. One of the most drawing aspects of this organization is how almost every Education major is involved in the club, which shows how it is loyal and is involved with children.
According to the organization website, “Project Sunshine operates programs in 5 countries, impacts over 150,000 pediatric patients and their families, and provides meaningful community service opportunities to over 18,000 volunteers. We work hard to raise awareness for the emotional needs of children facing medical challenges and their often forgotten caregivers.”
To learn more about the club, I sat down with the Leader of the St. John’s Chapter of Project Sunshine, Vanessa, to talk about the club and ask some questions about their mission:
Q: Project Sunshine states that its mission is to “to transform hospitals, outpatient centers, and long-term care facilities into cheerful places for pediatric patients and families. We design fun, creative, and educational programs that our vast network of trained volunteers implement.” How long have you been an organization at St. John’s?
–Project Sunshine is a national organization that was created by a college student by the name of Joe Weilgus in 1998 and grew rapidly, expanding its offices into New York City by the early 2000s. The St. John’s Chapter was created in 2013 to promote the mission within our college community. Today, Project Sunshine has over 18,000 dedicated volunteers serving nationally and globally.
Q: The Activity Kits for pediatric patients are a staple of your organization: approximately, how many of those do you make per semester and what do they consist of?
–“Sending Sunshine” is our signature event that we host about once a month during the academic year where we gather together in groups and assemble Activity Kits to send off to children facing medical challenges in underserved and developing countries. We make 200 activity kits per session which consist of craft materials, games, coloring pages, stickers, and cards written by our wonderful volunteers.
Q: What makes Project Sunshine different than other nonprofit organizations that cater to pediatric patients?
–Project Sunshine has been an influential and popular organization in the United States for over 20 years and that recognition allows us to connect with an array of providers and medical facilities looking for programs to host for their pediatric patients. Children in long-term care come to love and cherish Project Sunshine’s presence in their life as we are consistent and play a large role in making their hospital stay a little bit brighter. Since we visit frequently, many of the children know us on a first-name basis and it brings them an ultimate sense of joy to know we have returned and have not forgotten about them.
Q: What is everyone’s favorite thing about being a part of this organization?
–Members of Project Sunshine love getting together for our events and making our community of volunteers vibrant, warm, and welcoming. Even though our community is large and our events are almost always overflowing with participants, everyone manages to make our time together feel safe and inclusive and a positive time to unwind with friends while making an impact in a child’s life. Hospital Volunteers, which have an elevated membership within the organization, absolutely love visiting the children in the hospital and being able to interact with the kids that they work so hard to make activities for.
Q: What hospital do you guys partner with?
–We partner with Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in Long Island, NY, a division of Northwell Health conjoined with LIJ and Katz’s Women’s Hospital. Cohen’s is the only children’s hospital on Long Island and the largest provider of inpatient pediatric services in New York State.
Q: Are there any new things you plan to do, especially with the patients during COVID-19?
–Yes! Project Sunshine is rolling out a new virtual program called Teleplay! Teleplay will allow us to connect remotely with pediatric patients and facilitate games and craft making over Zoom, or a similar platform. Other than directly in partnership with our hospital, we plan to collaborate with several organizations to send supplies, toys, and mementos to kids in hospitals around the country. We are also going to be working with the Pajama Program, a program where we will be recording ourselves reading children’s books and sending them to kids in hospitals, medical facilities, and schools.
The leader of the chapter, Vanessa, states “Project Sunshine is for everyone regardless of your major or specific interests. We have many events planned to make this semester online as engaging and fun as possible. For more information on how to join, please email us at [email protected] or follow us on Instagram @sjuprojectsunshine. We’d love to see you there!”