If you work out like the devil for 10 weeks, you expect to see results. And the ladies in Angela Mohan’s Saturday “Boot Camp” in Delaware County did. And it wasn’t just trimmer waists and thinner thighs.
Every week, each participant, most of them Irish-born, tossed in $10. The $1,000 they raised went to buy toys for the Child Life Center at Nemours/Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.
The Child Life Center is the one spot in the sprawling hospital where nothing medical happens. Children on chemo wearing protective masks, toddlers tethered to oxygen tanks, teens on crutches or in wheelchairs won’t have a temperature or blood pressure taken, nor will they take a pill or get a shot when they’re there.
It’s where they can play video games and air hockey, put together puzzles and make crafts. It’s the only place in the hospital where they can forget that they’re in a hospital.
On Saturday, December 17, nine Boot Camp survivors—they call themselves Angel’s Army—carried a dozen huge boxes into the hospital, most of them playthings that will become a permanent part of the Center’s own Toyland. They even put them together—a feat that took hours and some helping hands (not to mention tools) from staff members and parents.
Mohan, aka “Angel,” is a fitness instructor and coach and co-founder of the national championship Mairead Farrell Gaelic Ladies Football Club in Philadelphia. She knows firsthand the pain, fear, and isolation that children with life-threatening diseases feel when they’re in the hospital for a long time. “My nephew had leukemia when he a child and spent two years in the hospital in Ireland,” said Mohan, who came from County Tyrone. She recalled sending him Ninja Turtle Bandaids “which he put all over,” she laughs. “Fortunately, he’s 25 today and well.”
The group chose DuPont because of a personal connection. Aisling Travers, 19, of Malbern, whose mother, Marie, was in the Boot Camp, is a longtime volunteer at DuPont Hospital. As a student in Great Valley High School, she started a program called “Kid To Kid,” which has so far sent more than 150 student volunteers to work in the Child Life Program. An education major at West Chester, Aisling still volunteers herself every weekend.
She launched the Kid to Kid program because “we’ve been through this ourselves,” says Aisling. “I have a cousin in Ireland with brain cancer who has been in and out of the hospital. An experience like this really opens everyone’s eyes. You get to see that the world is different from just what you know.”
This time of year, staff members and volunteers are busier than Santa’s elves, sorting and wrapping presents for the children who will be spending Christmas in the hospital. “We had 100 kids here last year,” says Child Life’s Beth Carlough. “We get most of our donations at Christmas time and we sort them in our Secret Santa room.” She motioned to a door behind her, its windows covered in red paper.
“On Christmas eve day, every child who will be here will get six to 12 gifts. Our specialists and volunteers will ‘shop’ for each kid in the room and Santa will go from room to room with the gifts. The kids and the parents are not expecting it. One year, one little child said, ‘Santa, you found me!’ Everyone in the room was crying.”
She looked at the Angel’s Army group, all wearing matching pink t-shirts. “I hope you guys realize what a thing you did. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”