The popular holiday song written by Al Stillman says, “There is no place like home for the holidays,” however, for children in the hospital during times of celebration, it can feel like the last place but home.
At the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the staff strives to bring a feeling of happiness to every child who has to stay over the time of celebration, said Child Life Foundation supervisor Becca Majerczyk.
The activities and events for the patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital over the holidays are organized by the Child Life Foundation department. The foundation is a group of specialists who help patients and the families of the patients reduce stress while going through treatment, according to Ms. Majerczyk.
“We just try to normalize the hospital every day, but on a holiday we extend that by doing more celebrating and decorating,” she said.
Ms. Majerczyk adds that the hospital does not release the children over the holiday time due to not waiting to risk them getting sick with common winter time illnesses such as the Flu.
For Thanksgiving Day, the Phoenix Children’s Hospital cafeteria staff provides a hot Thanksgiving meal to patients’ family members over 12 years old so that families may enjoy the holiday together, Ms. Majerczyk said.
The Child Life Foundation worked to design a playroom for each floor of the hospital so the children can escape their rooms to play, color and relieve stress. During the fall and winter seasons, the specialists provide holiday crafts and help the children with decorating the playrooms by stringing colorful holiday lights and hanging up holiday themed décor just like as if the child were at home.
The Child Life Foundation specialists try to get creative and use different medical supplies for the crafts so that they are comfortable with the equipment being used for their treatment, Ms. Majerczyk said.
“Our Child Life Specialists are amazing with helping come up with crafts and activities for our patients,” said Mackenzie Kimes, a nurse pediatric at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “Christmastime is also a time of year where we receive a lot of donations from donors.”
The Child Life Foundation also organizes the annual Toy Land event in which parents of the patients can come pick out toys for their child on Christmas Day. The hundreds of toys that are provided at the event, were donated to the hospital through toy drives that are put on around the community. The event is held to help relieve the stress of Christmas shopping expenses for the parents of the patients, Ms. Majerczyk said.
She also said Santa Claus comes to give gifts and visit the children, adding that Santa’s visit seems to be the most exciting event for the children. The foundation staff arranges for Santa to come visit the children once for them to tell Santa what they would like for Christmas, and another time for him to deliver gifts.
Volunteers are a major part of the holiday season at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Ms. Majerczyk said. Each volunteer must be at least 16 and go through training before lending a helping hand.
“We do rely hugely on our volunteers who help all throughout the hospital,” Ms. Majerczyk said. “The ones who help in the playrooms make a big difference in the holidays to make sure that every child gets to celebrate.”
Nadia Zalenski, a nurse to cancer patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital said “I try to spend time with each child during the holidays to make them feel more comfortable with me and to build their trust. I try to color holiday themed pictures with them and do something with them that is not related to what they are actually there for.”
Ms. Kimes said she organizes a tie-dye blanket making fundraiser for the children each year during which the nurses from Phoenix Children’s Hospital each make a blanket that is then given to the children who have to spend the holidays in the hospital.
“Having been a pediatric patient over Christmastime myself back in the day, one thing I appreciated was having my own blankets from home rather than the ones provided by the hospital,” Ms. Kimes said. “It helped make the environment feel more like home. Making these blankets is a tradition I hope to carry on for years to come.”
There are many upcoming holiday events at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Ignite Hope is an annual fundraising candle lit walk that the community is invited to lift up the spirits of the children in the hospital according to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital website.
Ignite Hope will be held at North High School, 1101 E. Thomas Road in Phoenix, and at Canyon Breeze Elementary School, 11675 W. Encanto Blvd. in Avondale, on Saturday, Dec. 14. The time is yet to be announced.
Lacey Lyons is a student-reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.