Paul “Chip” Donohue, ’89 VSB, was on his way home from a successful fundraising event he’d organized for a local hospital when he got a call from a nurse on the pediatric ward.
Della, a young patient with a brain tumor, was having a rough night. Donohue had met Della previously on visits to the ward, and the nurse asked him to stop by.
Della, stabilized on an air mattress and unable to move, perked up at the sight of Donohue. He asked if he could do anything for her, and she told him she’d love to see the movie “Jumanji.”
“I went out to the nurses’ station and said, ‘Where are the videos?’” Donohue recalls. “The nurse answered, ‘Chip, we don’t have any.’ “
He was shocked. “I said, ‘We just raised tens of millions of dollars for this hospital, and the kids have no videos?’”
He decided to do something about it —and the idea for “Little Smiles” was born.
“Anything for the kids”
With much of hospital fundraising slated for essential projects such as new medical wings, Donohue saw an equally important, unfulfilled need — making hospital stays and life more tolerable and more enjoyable for children facing serious health challenges.
He saw nurses reaching into their own pockets to provide children with small but necessary items such as socks, toothbrushes and books.
He and his best friend and roommate, Jeff Mullen ’88 VSB, came up with a way to work with nurses to cover these necessities and bring fun into the lives of sick children.
They founded Little Smiles, a nonprofit organization that provides for the entertainment, health care or family resource needs of children facing health-related challenges.They strive to offer anything that might make the children feel special — including games, videos, computers, special outings, sporting event tickets and more.
Philadelphia-based Mullen first got involved on a visit to Donohue, who lives in Florida. “I met him after work, and figured he was going to take me to a bar,” Mullen recalls with a laugh.
Instead, Donohue took him to a supermarket, instructing him to fill a cart with cookies, candy, crackers,
chips and “anything kids love.”
“I’m thinking, ‘What is he doing?’ ” Mullen remembers. “Then Chip gets on the phone and orders 20 pizzas. Twenty minutes later, we pull up to a hospital, where nurses load all the stuff onto gurneys.”
He and Mullen followed the nurses up to Pediatrics, where they distributed the treats and pizzas to delighted
kids. From that moment, Mullen was hooked. “I thought, ‘This is so cool, so easy. I’m in.’”
Today the volunteer driven organization is based in both south Florida and eastern Pennsylvania, with a
future goal of expanding nationwide. Their motto is “Anything for the kids.”
“The quieter you are, the louder you are heard”
The busy professionals — Donohue owns his own company, and Mullen is an executive with Apple Vacations — say their desire to serve others first blossomed at Villanova.
While their Villanova education helped make them successful in business, it was the University’s service element —doing good in a quiet, meaningful way — that inspires their work with Little Smiles. “We learned, the quieter you are, the louder you are heard,” Donohue says.
The children’s needs are identified by nurses, and Little Smiles delivers — often within 24 hours — the requested items or service. Nurses make requests for patients via www.littlesmiles.org. The form requires only the nurse’s name and affiliation, the age, gender and location of the child and the desired product or service.
Little Smiles’ work can only happen with the support of nurses. The Villanova Nursing Alumni Association (VNAA) has endorsed Little Smiles and encourages alumni to utilize its services. “We’re proud and excited to support this wonderful organization,” says VNAA president Margaret Hannan ’84 B.S.N., R.N., M.S.
Bethann Worster ’06 B.S.N., R.N. cares for patients at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) who have benefitted from Little Smiles. They’ve received Backyardigans concert tickets, Phillies and Eagles tickets and a laptop computer. Last year, Worster attended Little Smiles’ annual Stars Ball, a black tie fundraising event where kids are treated like stars.
“It was a great event where patients from CHOP were able to get dressed up and arrive in limos and walk a red carpet. Little Smiles had family and friends of the patients take pictures as they walked, as if they were the paparazzi!”
This year’s Stars Ball will be held Saturday, November 14, 2009 at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, will attend.
Keeping it fun
The Stars Ball is just one of the creative things Donohue, an exuberant new father, and Mullen, a seasoned father of four, are constantly dreaming up for the kids.
For example, kids fighting cancer now have Nerf gun fights in the room where they receive chemotherapy. “The kids all call it ‘the bad room.’ We decided to make it a ‘good room’ by having something fun happen there,” Donohue explains.
Surprise pizza deliveries go to the nurses’ station to encourage patients and parents to get to know each other. “Normally these parents and kids wouldn’t meet, but put 10 pizzas out at the station and there’s instant community spirit,” Mullen explains.
Donohue and Mullen are never short of ideas to bring smiles to kids’ faces.
“I was at the store today and saw these really cool remote control helicopters kids can launch right from their beds,” Donohue enthuses to Mullen. “We’ve got to get some!”