If you’ve ever been a kid stuck in a hospital for any amount of time or if you’ve ever been related to a child in that position, you know it can be a stressful and scary time. That’s why it’s great to know there are groups out there like the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Their mission is to create moments of joy for hospitalized kids and their families. So far they’ve reached over 60 million children that way.
At Star Wars Celebration Orlando I got to meet with Starlight’s CEO Chris Helfrich and Vice President of Communications and Public Relations Chris De Haan to learn more about not only how Starlight is helping kids but how they’re incorporating Star Wars into their work.
First we checked out the Starlight Brave Gowns. They definitely didn’t have anything like this back when I was a kid. Starlight’s team decided they could take the standard medical gown and give it a major upgrade. Not only are these gowns redesigned with a soft fabric, they’re also more comfortable in that they snap on the side instead of the often embarrassing opening in the back. They didn’t stop there though. These brightly colored gowns also bring joy via transformation and imagination with character designs.
On display at the show were gowns recently designed to represent Chewbacca, an X-wing pilot, a stormtrooper, Darth Vader, and R2-D2. A $25 donation is all it takes to make one of these available to a hospitalized kid. As Star Wars fans we know how our favorite characters can inspire us in moments of our daily lives. So what really struck me beyond the practicality was the potential for empowerment these gowns could bring to kids along with the fun.
Next we took a look at Starlight VR. I have to admit when I heard Starlight was working with ILMxLab on this, I had a small fangirl moment. (If you listen to Hyperspace Theories you know about my VR fascination.) We’ve gotten to see a few of ILMxLab’s new storytelling avenues so I was curious about this application.
Set to roll out later this year in the US, this new virtual reality initiative will bring special experiences to thousands of hospitalized children via one of two methods. Chris Helfrich shared with me that hospitals that have the space for it will have a dedicated room that uses the HTC Vive system. If a hospital can’t devote a room, then a mobile unit will be brought to patients’ rooms. Either way the units will easily be sanitized for multiple uses.
I got to try out the first public demo for the program – a meet and greet with BB-8. And even as a VR-using veteran I was surprised by how moved I was by the experience. BB-8 responded to my voice, followed directions I gave via a controller wand, and even let me pet him. At one point I started murmuring about how I had never realized the BB-8 has so much in common with dogs. It was fantastic.
While Chris said this demo was created specifically for Star Wars Celebration, there’s more Star Wars content planned that’ll immerse kids in a galaxy far, far away for a bit. I’m sure kids and parents alike will find it a welcome distraction from hospital life.
But it gets even better. Chris told me about the partnership with Google that’ll bring Google Earth and room-scale 3D painting as part of the experience. He talked of the potential to take kids on field trips they wouldn’t be able to participate in otherwise and showing them things they might not have gotten to see regardless like the Great Wall of China.
As a beneficiary of this year’s Star Wars: Force for Change campaign, Starlight will receive a grant that’ll cover up to 270 of these VR units’ placement as well as support the delivery of Brave Gowns. Want to be a part of this magic? You can donate to the Starlight Foundation directly on their website. Through today you can also donate through Omaze as part of their Win the Three Most Epic Star Wars Experiences Ever campaign. UNICEF is a beneficiary along with Starlight.
Thank you so much to Chris and Chris for taking the time to show me just a fraction of what Starlight Children’s Foundation has to offer. Bringing joy to the world isn’t always an easy job, but it’s definitely an important one.
Kay reviews Star Wars books for FANgirl in addition to movies of several genres with a heart for storytelling and a mind that likes to analyze. She also writes about fandom reflections and fashion as well as co-hosts the Hyperspace Theories podcast. She has been known to make appearances on other podcasts including Fangirl Chat, Nerd Lunch, Disney Vault Talk's Rebel Yell, and Assembly of Geeks.
Currently a voice actor, photographer, and artist who also consults in communications and marketing, Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, writing, learning and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord.