One night a year, kids get to dress up and go door-to-door amassing as much free candy as possible — a core childhood experience. But for UF Health Shands Children's Hospital patients, Oct. 31 will look a little different, and teams of people are working together to bring as much Halloween spirit as possible.
The hospital’s Child Life Program is working with volunteers, student organizations and community donors to provide the young patients with candy, costumes and fall-themed crafts.
“It’s very important for our children and families to have a sense of home, a sense of normalization while they’re here in the hospital,” Amy Wegner, the Child Life Program director said. “We want to make any sort of special event for them happen while they’re here.”
The program has been organizing Halloween and other special events at the children’s hospital for the last 33 years. This year, the pediatric units will be participating in reverse trick-or-treating, where kids will have things brought to them instead of going door-to-door, Wegner said. Volunteers and staff hand out activity items like coloring books, pencils, crayons, Play-Doh and some candy.
One of Child Life’s biggest sponsors is Spirit of Children, a fundraiser coordinated by the store Spirit Halloween. During the Halloween season, 100% of every dollar collected goes directly to the Child Life department, Wegner said.
Since 2011, the program has been receiving costume donations through the Spirit of Children, she said. A variety of themed costumes in all different sizes are provided for any kid that does not have a costume from home.
Due to COVID-19, some of the events and surprises for the kids have changed, and the coordinators are focusing on planning activities that can be brought to the room, Fisackerly said.
“One of my favorite events we’ve done in the past is all our therapy dogs got dressed up in costume, and we had a therapy dog parade,” she said.
Many days look the same for the long-term patients, Bethany Fisackerly, a certified Child Life specialist, said. Holiday specials break patients’ routines and are important to create memories for them within the hospital, she said.
“We had one kid a couple of years ago when we had the therapy dog parade who kept saying how it was just the best Halloween she had ever had,” Fisackerly said.
Additionally, COVID-19 limited who was able to interact with the kids, so volunteers were not allowed to come into the hospital. This year, volunteers and student organizations get to participate in the festivities and interact with the children again.
Footprints, a UF nonprofit student organization, will assist the Child Life Program with the Halloween festivities in Shands Children’s Hospital Units 41 and 42.
Footprints’ main goal is to go to the hospital and let the kids be kids during treatment and help them feel as normal as they can while they are at the hospital, which goes hand in hand with Child Life’s mission.
Even though they could not be with the kids last year, the student volunteers made sure to still reach this goal and ensure that the children had a special Halloween experience by donating goody bags, Madison Burns, the Footprints committee chair, said.
“Being here this year is really special in that we spend time on these projects and we actually get to see them spend time with it and make their day,” Burns said. “It kind of makes a difference when you can walk into a room, and it’s really decorated, and it doesn’t feel so sterile and so much like a hospital.”
Footprints and Child Life welcome any donations throughout the year to help make each holiday special for the kids.
Contact Elena Barrera at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.
Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.