MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
When Michele Hall, the president, and CEO of the enCourage Kids Foundation talks about the organization, it’s clear she’s all in.
She enjoys what she does and will enthusiastically tell anyone how important and rewarding her job is. She’s knowledgeable, smart, and above all, determined to have “hospitals be a better place to get better.”
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Hall, a married, mother of one. “I heard the actress Emma Samms talking about the enCourage Kids Foundation on the Arsenio Hall Show years ago and I started volunteering. Eventually, a position opened and I started doing program coordination. I’ve been here ever since because I believe in what we are doing.”
Since 1985, the enCourage Kids Foundation has helped humanize health care for children and their families by resourcing impact-driven pediatric programs and supporting the child life community.
A child life specialist is a trained professional who works closely with children and their families in a hospital or other medical setting, providing support and helping them cope during traumatic and difficult situations. One of their most important roles is to explain a child’s diagnosis and/or treatment in a way that the child will be able to understand and know exactly what is going on.
“When we talk about the impact-driven pediatric programs, we’re talking about giving money, in particular, as much as $16 million in funding to hospitals for all the things they need for their programs,” said Hall, a Michigan State University alum. “Maybe they want a lounge, or an aquarium, art classes, yoga, facility dogs to sit through cancer treatments, tablets, music therapy bead programs, or even closed-circuit TV for the children. We don’t want a kid in a hospital without a TV just because they can’t afford it.”
Serving more than one million children annually, enCourage Kids programs offer relief from the constant burden of treatment, hospital stays, and doctor appointments, while also helping pediatric facilities meet the unique needs of their patients.
enCourage Kids Foundation recognizes that being in the hospital is scary and because of weird sounds, unfamiliar equipment and big words they may not understand, it can be especially intimidating for children, not to mention how frightening their lack of control in that environment can be.
On Sept. 9, enCourage Kids Foundation celebrated the birthday of Teddy, the organization’s mascot.
“We decided to celebrate our Teddy Bear’s birthday on Sept. 9 because that’s officially National Teddy Bear Day,” Hall said. “We jumped on the bandwagon and started attaching our bear to National Teddy Bear Day. Our goal is to get it in the hands of every hospitalized child.
“We provide funding to pediatric facilities, like room renovations with great distraction points, and technology for teens. We listen to what hospitals are looking for. They tell us what they need.”
Working with hospitals and sick children is not an easy job emotionally, but Hall insists it has been worthwhile.
“I learned so much about the trauma that parents go through,” Hall said. “I learned how they deal with a sudden illness. Now they have doctor visits and therapy visits. I created a huge sensitivity. I’m a parent. I can empathize. What must it be like? The thing you love most in the world goes through a trauma. I’m impressed by parents. They never feel sorry for themselves. They are grateful for what we do for them.”
Hall said enCourage Kids is not blind to what is happening in the world when it comes to the haves and the have nots.
“When we talk about the health care disparity and socioeconomics, this gives every family more access,” Hall said. “COVID-19 opened up our class system in America. Some can afford a tutor, some are working and can’t hire a tutor. We keep having conversations about it. This is a new challenge. We want to rise to meet that challenge.”
Statistics show that about three million children are hospitalized each year.
The enCourage Kids Foundation has helped one million kids since its inception in 1985.
“Three million get hospitalized at some point,” said Hall, who was hospitalized herself as a 9-year-old child. “Think about a hospital stay. The number of children is exponentially larger than that number. The medical field is making progress. Pediatric health care is so much better now.”
The foundation seeks to humanize health care.
“As a 9-year-old child, if you see me as an individual and walk me through the process, in a way that gives me power,” Hall said. “Children are more resilient than we think they are. It’s incredible. Kids can process the information. That’s what’s great about our Teddy Bear clinics. You’re trying to prevent a horrible outcome for that child. Giving children power is humanizing health care.”
Through its programs and support of 286 pediatric facilities across the country, enCourage Kids Foundation’s hope is that children and families can have a brighter, more positive hospital experience.
The enCourage Kids Foundation has an EK TV – Encourage Kids TV channel.
“Hospitals won’t let anyone inside right now,” Hall said. “We thought, here is a chance to take entertainment virtual. We don’t want to be one of those entities that only provide things internally. We want it to follow the kids home. Kids can access yoga, wellness, musicians, and entertainers. We want to provide a wealth of content to families to give them access anywhere they are.”
Each year the organization hosts its premier tasting event, Serving Up Smiles, usually held in October. The event offers cuisine, wine and spirits from popular chefs and restaurants.
Due to COVID-19 and the closure of restaurants, last June, the foundation introduced “Serving Up Smiles At Home,” a virtual fundraiser that brings participants inside the kitchens of renowned chefs and has them guided step-by-step virtually in real-time with a hands-on cooking lesson.
One of the participants was Chef John Cleveland of Post & Beam in Los Angeles.
Hall said the virtual fundraiser is the brainchild of Marc Brogdon, the president of N2U Creative Marketing Group, the marketing agency of record for the organization.
“We were going to do one or two virtual events in June as an announcement for the actual event which happens in October,” said Brogdon, whose company also handled the Breaking Barriers campaign, which benefitted the foundation. “When the foundation didn’t think they would be able to have an in-person event this year, I decided to do a virtual series every week starting last June 25, as a promotional tour with chefs from around the country. It would create a bigger awareness of the gala in October, which will also be held virtually this year.”
Brogdon said the October 2020 virtual event will include multiple rooms that include cooking demos, mixology demos, a live band, an auction room/marketplace, a DJ, and a VIP Room, which will have a special celebrity performance.
“It’s been great working with Michele on these events,” said Brogdon. “She has rebuilt this organization from the ground up and has truly brought more visibility to the organization than ever before.”
“It’s been fun,” said Hall of Serving Up Smiles at Home. “We get to talk about what we’re doing at enCourage Kids Foundation. We get to market to a brand new audience. The response has been tremendous.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.