CHAPEL HILL — Joey McMahon has wanted to do something good, something to help people who needed it, for as long as he can remember.
For most of his 23 years, he didn't really know how or where to channel that impulse. But after his beloved grandfather died of bone cancer last Christmas Eve, McMahon determined that the time had come to stop waiting for opportunity to present itself, and to create one himself.
"After he passed away, I decided that if ever there was a point in my life when I would be able to do something good, this was it," said McMahon, a recent Duke graduate and three-year manager for the Blue Devils' men's basketball team.
"I don't have a family, or even a car. I live with my parents. I'm not making any money right now. So this is a good time for me to do something."
What he's done, with childhood friend Paul Burke and a handful of others, is create a nonprofit organization called Miracle Mondays. The concept could hardly be simpler: Participants donate $1 every Monday, with proceeds going to help improve the environment for the young patients at area children's hospitals, by providing them with arts, music, poetry, games and more.
Miracle Mondays recently gained its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, spread the word via social media and old-fashioned communications and launched its website Aug. 9.
"We had over 4,000 hits the first day," said Burke, the organization's vice president of operations. "The response has been incredible. Facebook and word of mouth are amazing things."
Three basic ideas
McMahon said he hit on the idea by rethinking some basic assumptions.
"First, how do you give to charities?" he said. "When I was in college, I wanted to do good, but I didn't really know how, and I didn't necessarily have $25 or $50 to donate at a time. But $1 a week? I could do that. Most people can do that. It adds up.
"Then I thought, let's rethink Mondays too. Most people hate Mondays. They get up going, 'Ugh, gotta go to work.' The truth is, they get to go to work. People in hospitals don't. I thought, let's give people a reason to feel good about Mondays.
"And the third thing I wanted to rethink was what a hospital should look like."
McMahon pointed to extensive research that suggests that arts, music, activities and other non-medical factors can play a significant role in helping patients recover. He has seen that effect in action, too; some years ago he helped his mother paint colorful windows at Duke Children's Hospital, and he noticed how the young patients responded.
"We all know that the kind of room you're in can affect your mood," he said. "Your environment can not only make you feel better, it can actually help you heal."
The Miracle Mondays crew interviewed patients, families, doctors and staff at the organization's inaugural partner hospital, Duke Children's Hospital, to find out what they want and create a checklist of priorities.
"Joey got in touch with me and pitched this idea, and he had a great set of plans and a great idea," said Carolyn Schneiders, a child life specialist at Duke Children's Hospital. "Miracle Mondays fits in really well with what we do, and it's going to be a good thing for the hospital."
Things for the kids
Thanks to the swift outpouring of donations, Miracle Mondays has already completed the first item on its checklist - a collection of Xbox video games. It now has the money in hand to paint colorful designs on the hospital's ceilings.
Next up, additional hours for the hospital's music therapist - the children have asked for more time with him - and a massage therapist for families in the waiting room. Also on the checklist are gifts to go into the hospital's treasure chest, sponsorships at a camp for young patients, and laptop computers.
McMahon and Burke have been friends since they were 5 years old. They grew up together and both attended East Chapel Hill High School. Afterward, they went in different directions, McMahon to Duke and Burke to UNC-Chapel Hill. After they both graduated last year, decided to collaborate on Miracle Mondays.
After working with Duke Children's Hospital, they hope to begin partnerships with the North Carolina Children's Hospital at UNC and other children's hospitals in the region.
"We're both completely caught up in this," Burke said. "It's great to be able to do something for these kids who have been dealt a bad hand. We just hope to improve things for as many of them as we can. The sky's the limit."
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