It’s a “G” Thing: Project Sunshine brightens days for sick kids and families

Posted at 5:21 PM, Nov 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-14 17:21:19-05

Music, arts, crafts, face painting, laughter and more! It's definitely not what you'd expect in a hospital.

“There having a day where all of us can get together and celebrate these children’s amazing health and growth,” Amy Knepper said.

The families at this party all have something in common: their kids were patients in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“These are babies from as little as a pound born at 20-23 weeks to full-term babies that have problems that need medical attention,” Dr. Ian Holzman, Chief of Neonatal Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital, said.

But bringing some light to Mount Sinai Hospital and making this party happen is Project Sunshine.

“It’s this great organization that goes in and helps kids who are there for long-or-short-term care," Tricia Psychas, a Project Sunshine volunteer, explained. "You just have fun with them and you just make them and their families forget what they’re going through.”

Joseph Weilgus founded Project Sunshine out of his college dorm room in 1998.

“I became a volunteer clown in hospitals, face paint, a wig, the whole deal,” Weilgus remembered. "I was surprised to see children alone at night and there without tutoring, and it seemed there was that need, there was that gap, and I said, I can fill this.”

Project Sunshine provides free programs to kids of all ages facing medical challenges, like book readings, art time, tutoring and the individualized 'Star for a Day' program.

“Star for a day is when we come in and we brighten up a child’s day especially a child that is going through a particularly tough time," Lauren Valletutti, a Project Sunshine volunteer, said. "It just makes them feel extra special!”

Today's 'Star' was Ansley. He's an eight-year-old waiting for a heart transplant.

"[I've already] decorated my room!"

“We brought LEGOs, we brought make your own superhero cape," Valletutti explained. “Decorations of course, he loves baseball so we brought a Red Sox hat.”

Come on Ansley,  the Red Sox?!

And when I asked him how it feels when Project Sunshine arrives with all this good stuff, he said, "Happy and proud [because] that means I'm a good kid?"

Project Sunshine is also there to support families. They provide mini-getaways like a spa day to help relieve some stress.

And now it reaches more than 100,000 kids in five countries with thousands of volunteers of all ages.

But, it's parties like this one where kids can just be kids and have some fun!