Being in the hospital is not a fun time for children. They are usually too sick, too scared or too worried to experience any fun.
But Northwest Community Hospital makes Tuesday nights a fun time for children when volunteer magicians from Open Heart Magic visit children on the pediatric inpatient unit and in the kids-only emergency room. The magicians perform skits that make young patients laugh and teach them magic tricks that boost their confidence and make a tough time a little easier.
"These gentlemen are something special," unit manager Joanne Borck says. "They do a wonderful job of engaging the kids." After teaching the children tricks and giving them performance props, the volunteers swear the kids to secrecy and make them fellow magicians. Borck says she loves hearing the young patients say, "I learned magic in the hospital!"
Studies show magic is a beneficial tool for gaining trust, decreasing tension and establishing rapport with children—and, sometimes, it's a way of connecting with kids who resist connection. Mike Walton, founder of Open Heart Magic, learned all of this firsthand. Though he had a successful business career, Walton longed for something more—and began working as a volunteer hospital magician. He learned which tricks work best, what makes kids laugh and how to adjust his methods for kids with disabilities.
In 2005, Walton created Open Heart Magic to train volunteer magicians and deploy them to the bedsides of hospitalized children throughout the Chicago area. His volunteers are not professional magicians, but simply people dedicated to working with children. "Our 12-week 'Magic University' training program is quite rigorous, but it gives hospital magicians the tools they need to be successful," Walton says.
"Open Heart" magicians Chuck Gekas, Dave Graff and Loren Doppelt enjoy their visits to NCH. "The staff is so welcoming and so grateful for this service," Gekas says. "And visiting the pediatric ER is a unique experience for us. NCH is a special place."
The NCH staff wants to continue having magicians visit NCH—perhaps even more often. But charitable funds are needed to sustain and expand the program. If you'd like to help sick kids smile, please make a gift to NCH at nch.org/donate and write "Magic Program" under Special Instructions.