Smiles were brought to the faces of the young children at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital on June 28 when Happy Hats for Kids (HHK) paid them a visit.
Each child received a red, white and blue felt hat in honor of the Fourth of July that was sewn by volunteer prison inmates in the California Institution for Women in Chino, California as part of the HHK “Celebrate America” program.
Twelve-year-old Josh Chavez, on crutches, told the Mirror that putting on the hat “makes me feel happy.”
Hospital music therapist Laurel Terreri, who accompanied HHK to patient rooms, noted, “Once the children go home they will remember someone cared enough to bring them a hat.”
Jessie Iving, RN, the Unit Director of Pediatrics, explained the program is a “distraction from the pain and discomfort the children are feeling in the hospital, and the parents appreciate it.”
HHK was started in 1991 by golf and tennis headgear designer Sheri Schrier, now the executive director. Schrier has lost four family members to cancer. The organization’s literature states its goal is to “bring fun and smiles back to the precious faces of hospitalized children and their families.”
In 2003, the program was expanded to include a Hero Club Program. This program gives a gift package, which includes a felt “Hero Hat,” a 96-page educational story/activity book and crayons to each child upon admission to the hospital. HHK literature states the storybook’s theme “is courage and bravery comes from within and every hospitalized child is truly a HERO.” The book also “explains basic hospital procedures helping to lessen common misconceptions young patients and their families often have.”
Since its beginning, HHK has given out nearly one million Happy Hats and 200,000 Hero Club gift packages to sick children and their families. The program is in 38 hospitals in California, and Schrier hopes to expand it to 150 hospitals. This was the first time it came to a hospital in Santa Monica.
In an interview with the Mirror, Schrier said that volunteer inmates in 20 state and federal prisons “across the country” sew the Happy Hats as part of “community service groups.” This work gives them a meaningful purpose and also helps them gain work skills. She added, “25 women per week make about 50 hats a week in the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.” In many cases, the prisoners receive pictures and thank you cards from the children and their families to show their appreciation for their work.
Custom Happy Hats are also given out for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools’ Day, Passover, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah. There is also a program for hospitalized children in Israel called “Happy Hero Hats Off to Israel.”
Those wishing to get involved can do so by making a $3 donation. For more information, contact Schrier at 310.787.8972, [email protected] or happyhatsforkids .com.