A PlayStation4 set up in a hospital room. An iPad to fiddle with. And a gift card to give for a birthday or the last day of chemotherapy.
Those are some of the things that are being used to distract teenagers across the country as they recover from a trauma or fight a disease.
The items, estimated to impact about 200,000 children in 50 states and Washington D.C., are courtesy of nonprofit agency Positive Impact for Kids, founded and run by Leanne Joyce, 15, of Chapel Hill.
The different things help normalize the hospital experience for children and teenagers, said Katie Oches, certified child life specialist for Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center in Durham, which has received this year two PlayStation4s and gift cards. “These are things they might do at their house with their friends.”
Leanne, a freshman at Carrboro High, founded Positive Impact in November 2011 with the mission to improve lives of children and teenagers receiving medical treatment.
Leanne has since raised more than $29,000 and donated 550 gift cards, more than 100 movies, 49 iPads and other items to 58 hospitals across the U.S.
Her long-term goal is to raise $100,000 to buy more items by the time she graduates in 2018.
Leanne is currently pushing two initiatives to help make that happen.
First, she is focusing on collecting money for gift cards during the month of October. Second, she is competing for a KIND Causes grant, a monthly program sponsored by healthy snack company KIND, which gives $10,000 to a cause or individual who receives the most public votes.
Voting for Positive Impact for Kids began Friday and will continue through Oct. 31.
Leanne was born with a congenital heart condition, a flawed aortic valve.
In September 2011, as she waited for her annual exam test results at a Duke Children’s Hospital clinic
, two volunteers rolled a cart into the room and distributed gifts. Leanne received a $10 iTunes gift card.
“I knew how good it made me feel,” she said.
Leanne was later told it isn’t safe for her to continue to participate in competitive sports.
The competitive swimmer, gymnast and jump roper walked away from those activities.
She started a nonprofit with the help of her parents, and last year started playing golf, the only sport sanctioned by her doctors.
Leanne contacted a graphic designer, who helped her build a website. She had wristbands made and applied for federal nonprofit tax-exempt status, which was finalized in October 2012.
“A lot of paperwork,” Leanne said.
The first business grant
Leanne then started applying for grants and found her first business donation within the month.
Leanne’s mother said she and Leanne’s father handle the book and help with complicated grants or ones with over 18-years of age requirements, but the rest is all Leanne.
Clifton & Mauney Orthodontists and Pediatric Dentistry celebrated its 10th year of buying back Halloween candy by matching donations that totaled nearly $800 for Positive Impact for Kids.
Leanne has also sold raffle tickets, requested various grants and successfully applied to be a beneficiary of the Chapel Hill Whole Foods Market’s community giving days, which gives 5 percent of a day’s net sales to an organization.
In May, Leanne was one of two students in the state who received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, which recognizes young people for outstanding volunteer service.
The recognition included $1,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C., where she was congratulated by Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker.
Other grants have come from the Carolina Panthers, a sorority at UNC-Wilmington and the Safeway supermarket chain.
Connecting with hospitals
Meanwhile, Leanne’s been connecting with hospitals across the U.S., establishing contacts and procuring wish lists.
Jenna Brown, Duke Children’s Hospital spokesperson, said the hospital welcomes these kinds of gifts because they include teenagers, who are often overlooked as many donations are toys for toddlers and babies.
Teenagers are a very specific population, and the donations help the hospital staff to meet them where they are, Brown said.
Kathy LiVolsi, nursing director of maternal-child health at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, remembers when Leanne visited the pediatric floor in February to drop off gifts cards.
“We were so struck by her unselfishness and her ability to reach out and give back to children that were kind of undergoing similar circumstances as her,” LiVolsi said. “I just remember thinking, ‘If half of the adults in the world had the depth and maturity that she has, the world would be a better place.’”
Know a young person who makes you proud? Tell us about it via our online form at newsobserver.com/thumbsup, by emailing email@example.com or by calling 919-829-4828.