Project Sunshine is an amazing organization that aims to bring joy and play to pediatric patients. The goal is not only to bring some light—some sunshine—to little ones going through scary times, but also to give caregivers a well-deserved break. We spoke to Whitney Namm Pollack, Executive Director with Project Sunshine, about their mission, pivoting to virtual offerings during COVID, and how we can support them.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, can you tell us a bit more about Project Sunshine?
We are headquartered in NYC and operate our programs across the US, Canada, China, Israel and Kenya. We partner with over 425 medical facilities and, in typical years, engage 19,000 volunteers to bring joy and play to 200,000 children and families. We know that children need to play in order to learn, cope and ultimately thrive. All of our programs are free to children and families.
That’s fabulous. How did you pivot during COVID?
Starting on March 13, 2020 our thousands of volunteers were restricted from leading in-person programs at hospitals. We were determined to deliver our mission, despite these changes. So we got right to work and, partnering with experts on social-emotional development, we developed games and activities on a HIPAA-compliant Zoom to protect our participants’ privacy. We re-trained our caring volunteers on cyber-safety and interaction on a virtual platform. We can now bring the healing power of interactive play to any child who has a device and Wifi.
Why was that so important—to remain committed to your mission during this time?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is one of the most effective methods of reducing stress in kids, allowing their bodies to heal. For the first time we are positioned to serve children coping with isolation who would benefit from safe engagement and socialization.
How can someone access the online groups and how is it different from anything else out there (other online classes, or just zooming with a friend)?
You can click this link to sign up for a session. TelePlay programs are designed for children ages 5-18 by child development experts to help promote child-to-child connections. Activities are led by highly trained volunteers. A child can come by themselves, include siblings and/or invite a friend. It’s a great opportunity to make meaningful connections through creative expression and play (plus, it’s a lot of fun)! TelePlay is free and open to any child who would benefit from play and socialization.
What else can families expect when they sign up?
Families can expect at least two trained, caring volunteers who are facilitating an age-appropriate game and are sensitive to a spectrum of needs. They can expect that their child will be in a safe, secure place and have an opportunity to interact with other children.
What are your goals for the rest of 2021? And ultimately?
Our goal in 2021 is to make TelePlay accessible to all children who could benefit from interaction and play. Long-term, we envision that TelePlay will have free programming available 24-7 for any child 5 and up who is seeking safe, interactive play and activities from their home.
How can people support your mission?
Feedback: Families should give us feedback on TelePlay sessions so we can continue to refine the program
Volunteer: If you’re over 18 years old, sign up to become a volunteer
Donate: Our programs are free to children and their families because of our generous donors.
Spread the Word: If you know a family who would benefit from TelePlay – tell them about it.
Anything else you’d like to share?
If a patient or family member needs help or has questions about TelePlay, they can reach us at [email protected]. We also have a TelePlay calendar that is emailed out every few weeks. To subscribe to that email list, emails us at [email protected] with “Subscribe to TelePlay emails” in the subject line, and we will add you.
Natalie lives in Houston with her family of four!
Cooking healthy meals that are delicious and satisfying can be hard work for us moms! Lately, I’ve been struggling to curate a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner that include all of the important nutrients and vitamins, only to have my kids come to the table with a stubborn palate.