One of the most anticipated days of the holidays for pediatric patients is the Companions in Courage Foundation’s Santa Connection. For a couple of days in early December, patients who are too sick to visit Santa in the local shopping mall, are treated to a personalized visit via Google Hangouts. Santa conducts his virtual visits from the North Pole, accompanied by some of his elves. The foundation also sends gift cards to each hospital so that Child Life staff members may purchase a gift for each patient who visits Santa.
Most of these visits are conducted in the hospital’s Lion’s Den Rooms. Using state-of-the-art communication tools, the children are beamed directly in to Santa’s living room, near his workshop. Santa is advised of each child’s name and he looks up the names of their siblings and pets. He tells each patient if they are currently on the “Naughty,” or the “Nice” list, and asks each child what they want as a Christmas gift. Because many of these children are from homes in under-served areas, this might be the only gift they receive for the holidays this year.
Santa had a full schedule this year, meeting and singing “Jingle Bells” on the first day with children from Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, Kravis Children’s at Mount Sinai, Wolfson Children’s, the new Oishei Children’s in Buffalo and CHOP in Philadelphia. On Day #2 he met and sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with patients and their families at Cohen Children’s, St. Louis Children’s, Goryeb Children’s and North Carolina Children’s Hospitals. As an added bonus, a multi-lingual Pere Noel spoke with the patients at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Some of Santa’s favorite visits were with Gavin, Jayden, Jocelyn, Julie (who had her entire family, including grandparents with her!) Porter, “Little” Josh, Grady (who got an American Girl doll from Santa!), Mimi and Beyla. A total of almost 100 patients somehow found their way on to Santa’s “Nice” list this year.
Many patients who were too ill to make their way to the Lion’s Den Room were able to connect with Santa via their new Google Chromebooks, that had been donated by the tech giant and Companions in Courage Foundation in September. These handy devices made it easy for Santa to be with some of his most precious children at their bedsides during the Santa Connection. Very special thanks were extended by Santa to all of the Child Life and tech support people at each hospital who made the visits seamless.
Of special note was the preparation and participation of Steve Maykowski from Google and Mark Leff of Cisco Systems. They set up multiple tests with each hospital in advance of the big day, and then worked tirelessly for two days behind the scenes to ensure smooth delivery of each session. They were joined by “Elf” Amber Browning-Coyle of “Spotlight On,” and “Elf” Nicole Desantis from Google. Along with volunteers from St. Dominic’s High School on Long Island, who manned the social media aspects of the day, they made each patient visit very special. Some photos from the day are available in our Gallery at http://cic16.org/view_gallery.aspx?g=33