HMHS students raise funds to make children’s hospital stays easier

Students from Haddonfield Memorial High School gathered on June 5 to present members of Virtua Child Life Center of Cherry Hill with a check for more than $1,000 aimed at programs which ease a child’s stay in a hospital. From left, Virtua philanthropy director Amy McLeer, Virtua nurse director Leslie Oleaga, Virtua child life specialist Cassidy Taylor, HMHS sophomores Evelyn Ellis and Selena Chacon, Virtua child life specialist Megan DiTore and Virtua nurse manager Bobbi Gray.

Bracelets for Change is a nonprofit club at Haddonfield Memorial High School, founded by sophomores Evelyn Ellis and Salena Chacon at the start of the current school year. 

This club makes friendship bracelets from donated embroidery floss and sells them at community and school events. Club members meet around once a month in the morning to learn how to make bracelets or to discuss upcoming events. While mostly run by students, it is supervised by HMHS English teacher Holly Maiese. 

Among the events the club attended this year were the Pitman Fall Festival, HMHS Wellness Day, and Arts in the Courtyard. However, on June 5, BfC made its most important contribution: a check for more than $1,000 from its charitable endeavors, presented to representatives from Virtua Child Life Center. 

“We wanted something that could truly have impact for the community or a specific level. We didn’t expect to raise enough money to actually be able to do something like this. We weren’t thinking a lot of people would be into the idea of having a friendship bracelet making club. We didn’t think we’d have enough participation to have the club get on its feet. In the beginning, Salena and I were thinking this was one of our crazy ideas that would just sort of disintegrate over time, but we stuck with it,” Ellis explained. 

“I don’t think I could put a number to how much we thought we could raise, but it was definitely not this much.” 

Virtua Child Life Center dedicates time and resources to normalize a child’s stay in the hospital. Instead of concentrating on paying bills, the center’s aim is to make the hospital less frightening by providing social workers, entertainment, proms, and birthday parties for children of all ages. 

“We have a lot of kids who come through Virtua every year. Sometimes it’s just for a little trip to urgent care but sometimes it’s a two- or three-week hospital stay and it can be a very scary place. It can be a lonely place, too,” said Amy McLeer, Virtua’s philanthropy director. 

Leslie Oleaga, nurse director for Virtua’s pediatric inpatient unit, said it’s her job to deal with patients when they arrive, take care of them and prepare them for all kinds of tests or procedures they may have to have done. Her department doesn’t just take care of the children, but the entire family, because if mom and dad are upset, that’s going to adversely affect the kids’ mood as well. 

“We help them cope with things like providing moments for them to do arts and crafts, moments for them to feel like a kid again in an environment that’s so unusual to them. This helps to support and encourage them throughout their hospitalization,” added Cassidy Taylor, child life specialist at Virtua. 

McLeer mentioned the money raised by BfC would be applied to things most people wouldn’t easily associate with patient care. 

“We have incidents where a toddler doesn’t want to sit in bed all day, so (donations are good for) a special mattress that goes on the floor, and towards disinfecting the toys that patients use. They’ll do lots of education for certain procedures. For instance, what it feels like to go into an MRI machine, and we have special dolls and a doll-sized MRI machine. So it really empowers the children so that they can understand what’s happening and feel less scared,” she said. 

Ellis admitted that friendship bracelet making is a lot more of an art form than people would give it credit for, and that what seems like simply tying knots together to make something look like something else isn’t easy. 

Despite initial misgivings, Chacon said she was pleasantly surprised at her fellow students’ and the public’s generosity. 

“In the beginning, we thought maybe around a couple hundred, because selling bracelets you don’t make that much money. We didn’t expect people to pay much more. Some would pay $20 for one bracelet just for the cause,” she revealed.