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Princess Project Inspires Magic of Believing

3/23/2016

Organization founded by Mount students provides outreach to children in need

UPDATE: In July 2016, The Princess Project  was renamed A Moment of Magic Foundation and was recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

As children, Kylee McGrane ’17 and Margaret McAndrew ’17 vividly remember the experience of meeting Disney characters—real people who not only looked like their heroes, but who appeared genuinely interested in them, readily dispensing hugs and posing for pictures. This shared experience led them to launch The Princess Project, a student service club at the College of Mount Saint Vincent. “We remember the excitement of meeting Disney princesses and wanted to share that with others,” says Ms. McGrane. “We thought about those who might never make it to Disney, because they are too sick or because their families struggle financially. You only believe in magic for a short time, and we want to bring these children the magic of believing.”

The Princess Project is all about giving individuals an experience that can lift them above the everyday—especially important to those who are hospitalized over a long period of time. With this in mind, the group’s volunteers, led by Ms. McGrane and Ms. McAndrew, do everything they can to create wonder and joy. Both active members in the College’s Seton Service and Leadership Program, the co-founders dress as the characters Elsa and Anna—sister princesses from the Disney hit movie Frozen—and visit numerous hospitals, schools, and social service agencies. When they arrive for a visit, the two greet children with a hug, read stories, and play games—they take the time to really connect during each interaction. “It’s just us and the child in a room,” says Ms. McGrane. “Everyone needs positive attention, a moment that’s special for them. These kids need it more than most.”

After Ms. McGrane did some research and spoke to hospital administrators, she developed a brief training program to raise each volunteer’s awareness and sensitivity to challenges that can arise in the field of healthcare. “It’s important that our volunteers know how to handle different situations,” she says. “Our goal is to help patients feel more comfortable and forget about their medical issues. The members of our organization understand the importance of each patient’s privacy.” The sentiment is echoed by Nina Aversano, Chair and Assistant Professor of the Department of Accounting, Business, and Economics, and her colleague Ulrich Rosa, a faculty member in the Department who specializes in healthcare management. “Any volunteer who works in a hospital or healthcare facility needs this kind of training,” Mr. Rosa asserts. “In the healthcare management program, students performing internships need to be trained in HIPAA so they do not come into violation of these very important privacy laws. Although the responsibility ultimately lies with the hospital, we try to do our part to prepare students by raising their awareness of patient confidentiality.”

Participants also go through character training. They meet with Ms. McAndrew to develop their tone and personality. With a background in musical theater, she is able to provide a framework that helps volunteers get into character. “Children sometimes ask a lot of questions,” she says, “so the training process is important.”

Now entering its second year, The Princess Project has added many new volunteers—some who play characters, and others who work on the group’s technical needs, such as video recordings for their website. The group is also working to encourage more men to participate, “because little boys need to believe in superheroes, too.” The website also has links for visitors to learn more, inspire others to volunteer, donate to the cause, and organize visit requests.

The Princess Project’s efforts continue to be successful and make an impact on every child they meet. “We were visiting a little girl, and her mother began thanking us,” Ms. McAndrew recalls. “She had trouble putting it into words. She said that for just a few minutes she saw her daughter acting not like a sick child, but like any other little girl when she meets a princess.” The short videos on The Princess Project’s website say it all: excited children, reaching up to hug the two young women in princess costumes, as misty-eyed mothers and fathers watch, take pictures, and never stop smiling.