Project Sunshine members volunteer to brighten Phoenix children’s days

Family and human development freshman Ashley Mayfield said, "I'm at my highest peak when I'm helping others, especially children." (Photo by Rachel Nemeh)

Family and human development freshman Ashley Mayfield said, “I’m at my highest peak when I’m helping others, especially children.” (Photo by Rachel Nemeh)

Project Sunshine is a nationwide volunteer organization with more than 15,000 volunteers who work to raise funds, distribute goods and interact on a personal level with children in hospitals. The ASU chapter of Project Sunshine was founded last year and its members have been working hard to touch the lives of local Phoenix children ever since.

Julie Rizzolo, an accounting sophomore and president of Project Sunshine, learned about the organization from an advertisement in a magazine. She said the organization interested her, so she kept the ad.

When she had to do a community service project in her senior year of high school, Rizzolo decided to pursue volunteer opportunities with Project Sunshine.

 

 

“I kept in touch with them and last year in the spring, the lady that I worked with in the national office in New York, she emailed me and asked me if I wanted to start a chapter here at ASU,” she said. “So, I took them up on the opportunity, and I applied, and they approved it. So, this is our first year as a chapter at ASU.”

The chapter has 15 active direct service members and other volunteers who work with the chapter. Right now, there is only room for 15 members because Phoenix Children’s Hospital limits the number of times volunteers can enter the hospital, she said.

Because the organization often works directly with children, members have to apply.

Rizzolo said she is not too concerned with what applicants are majoring in as long as they can meet the time requirements and have an interest in community service. Applicants also have to submit a résumé and answer some basic questions about why they want to volunteer and what their experience with children is, she said.

Meetings are held biweekly on Wednesdays and members are also expected to participate in activities, where they make arts and crafts and assemble Surgi dolls for the children.

Surgi dolls are assembled by volunteers and then returned to the national office. From there, they are distributed to children in hospitals and used by doctors to explain to the young patients what will happen to them in surgery. It’s a way to make everything less scary for the children, she said.

Community service has always been a part of Rizzolo’s life, but Project Sunshine gave her a way to get involved directly in the community and make an impact on people around her, she said.

“For me, it’s a way of giving back directly to the community,” she said. “I like being able to do something that kind of hits home.”

Rizzolo said most of the children she works with are in the hospital for extended periods of time. When the club visits the hospital, members have the chance to brighten the children’s day and give their parents a break.

“I personally have been in the hospital volunteering and the caregiver or the parents of the child are constantly there, so when they go into the playroom, and they see that we’re there and that we’re people that they can trust with their child … they’re able to actually take a break,” she said.

Ashley Mayfield, a family and human development freshman, has been involved with Project Sunshine since January. Since then, she has volunteered at the hospital doing arts and crafts for the children and fundraisers for the organization.

Every day, the children in the hospital are surrounded by sickness, she said. They wake up in the hospital and have doctors and nurses telling them what to do.

 Project Sunshine is a nationally recognized organization and, because of Julie Rizzolo and the dedication of their team, ASU is able to provide their students and community with the opportunity to spread the light and love to those in need. (Photo by Rachel Nemeh)

Project Sunshine is a nationally recognized organization and, because of Julie Rizzolo and the dedication of their team, ASU is able to provide their students and community with the opportunity to spread the light and love to those in need. (Photo by Rachel Nemeh)

She said the children have to carry around IVs and constantly think about what they can’t do. When volunteers like Mayfield go to the playrooms at the hospital, children have the chance to forget about everything and just focus on being a kid, she said.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” she said. “I’m helping them with their day-to-day struggle.”

Mayfield said she has seen the effects visits from volunteers have on patients.

“There was this one boy, he was diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “He was just so happy. While we were talking, he didn’t bring up his disease, not once.”

Katarzyna Mika, a global studies and business legal studies sophomore and a member of the club, said volunteering in the hospital is a positive experience for everyone involved.

“It’s been a really great experience, we go there about every two weeks or so, and it’s just kind of a way that we get the kids out of their hospital funk,” she said. “It’s just kind of a break for them to just come out and do something fun, and I feel like it’s also a break for the club members. We get a break to do something fun as well and just have a good time with the kids.”

To Mika, volunteering is a vitally important activity for the community as a whole. She said college students should find a cause they are passionate about and get involved.

“It’s good to give back to the community,” Mika said. “I feel like people need to find something that they really like to do as a community service event. Otherwise, they’ll probably just think of it as a chore or something. If you really like it and really like spending time doing that thing, then it’ll turn out to be positive for the community and for yourself.”

Once Mika graduates college, she intends to shift her focus to volunteerism on a more global level and continue to spend her time helping others.

“I feel like it creates a more cohesive community and one in which people feel safer,” she said.

Contact the reporter at stewart.stewart@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @Melissa152163