Volunteers bring magic to ill children

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Snow White, Tinker Bell and Elsa from the film Frozen were holding a video chat with 6-year-old Roman, who is in remission from leukemia.

The young women are part of the nonprofit A Moment of Magic—a group of college-age volunteers who dress up as popular princess characters and visit children with long-term illnesses, free of charge.

The group’s founders are Kylee McGrane, who dresses as Elsa from Frozen, and Margaret McAndrew, who usually dresses as her sister Anna. Both seniors at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, they they bring a little bit of magic to children battling cancer.

For Roman’s mother, Darcy Eichas-Statt and for parents like Shara Moskowitz, the visits make the children forget about their illness.

Moskowitz’s daughter Avery is in remission after a battle with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer. Because of her long hospital stays, Moskowitz worried that her daughter might not know how to socialize with people outside of her family. That changed when McGrane, dressed as Elsa, and the other princesses showed up last year Avery’s sixth birthday party.

“My daughter’s face just dropped, like, ‘Oh my God. The real princesses are in my house,’” Moskowitz said. “She talked to every single princess, especially Kylee. She talked to her for three hours straight.”

Roman, the child who held a recent video chat with the princess characters, met McGrane and McAndrew last summer, during one of their home visits. Roman’s mother found them through Facebook and wanted the princesses to stay in touch with her son. They did, and they also stayed in touch with Avery, whom McGrane and other princess characters visit at home and speak with via a video link-up.

The conversations help children express themselves or just have fun for a short time.

“They… make her feel really awesome,” Moskowitz said during a phone interview. “[Kylee as Elsa] makes my kid happy. They all do. They are very selfless.”

They also help parents.

“It has given me the sense of comfort,” Moskowitz said.

McGrane and McAndrew met during their freshman year, when they were roommates, and started A Moment of Magic in September 2015. Both had previously volunteered with programs helping youth and said they wanted to create their own organization to help children in a unique way.

“I was home one day, and I was watching Frozen, and I was looking at the characters and thinking: that looks like me and that looks like Maggie. And I just texted her and said, ‘What do you think if we just dress up and visit pediatric hospitals?’” McGrane said. “It was something I always wanted to do but it seems kind of intimidating to visit pediatric hospital, especially with pediatric oncology, but Maggie jumped in fearlessly with ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

“You kind of walk in the room and it’s kind of like a collective gasp. It’s really cool because we get excited about how excited they get… you always want them to believe and you never know. There might be that one kid [who says] I know you’re not her, but… when they believe, and you believe in what everything stands for, it’s just the best feeling,” McGrane said.

McAndrew, who dresses as Elsa’s sister Anna, recalled a visit the group made to New Jersey last year to visit foster children.

“There was this little girl, she was probably three, [who] came up to me and she looked in the face [and said] ‘Anna.’ She grabbed my face. She was touching my hair, and she was holding my hand and sitting on my lap, and I just held her in my arms for the rest of the visit… She just had this little gentle spirit that was so amazing,” McAndrew said.

Since they got the nonprofit off the ground, A Moment of Magic has been visiting four to five hospitals each week, its founders said. The group has 40 volunteers, playing the roles of 25 characters.

They currently work with organizations such as Cohen Children’s Hospital in Long Island, Montefiore in the Bronx and St. Mary’s Hospital in Queens.

The nonprofit requires that volunteers take 12 half-hour training sessions, which include knowledge of the HIPPA law, working with children who have special needs and character training. Additionally, volunteers, who are not dressed in costume, spend 40 hours shadowing experienced volunteers, according to the group’s website.

McGrane and McAndrew said they will continue with A Moment of Magic after their graduation this spring. McGrane, who is majoring in English and communication, plans to run the organization full-time. She is creating a business and marketing plan.

McAndrew, who is majoring in English and secondary/special education, plans to teach full-time and will become a board member.

“I think my phone is running out of pixie dust. Can I take a picture before I have to go?” McGrane as Elsa said to Roman as she started to wrap up the video call.

Eichas-Statt said to him, “Can you say cheese?” She took a picture of her son to send to McGrane.

Meanwhile, McGrane handed the phone to McAndrew to take a screen shot of her, Snow White and Tinker Bell.

“Thank you, Roman. I’m going to see you soon, okay?” said McGrane as Elsa before they ended the video call.

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