Project Sunshine makes kids smile

Francesca Raffa, a Project Sunshine volunteer, with a patient during a fall event at Holtz Children's Hospital. Courtesy Francesca Raffa

As a volunteer at Holtz Children’s Hospital, Daniel McCormack recalls a 20 minute pickup game of basketball against an unusual opponent, Sebastian the Ibis.

Although Sebastian’s presence made this game peculiar, the real magic of the game came from the 12-year-old patient who eagerly raced across the court and tried to help McCormack shoot another ball into the hoop, his hospital robe waving over his back and an IV in his arm.

“It was one of the best experiences I had at the hospital,” said McCormack, public relations chair of Project Sunshine.

The young patient is just one of the many children who are quickly forging companionships with volunteer members of Project Sunshine, a campus organization that strives to brighten ill children’s days. They work with children of all ages; some suffer from diseases like cancer and some were victims of the tragic earthquake in Haiti last year.

With an estimated 80 members, Project Sunshine volunteers visit the hospital every week and surprise the children with face-painting, games and prizes.

“We go into the kids’ rooms ready to play and try to alleviate the hospital environment,” said Francesca Raffa, president of Project Sunshine. “They usually are all very positive. They’re not patients with an illness, they’re just kids.”

Members of the organization are not required to volunteer at the hospital. Some choose to only participate in fundraisers, meetings and social events.
Although Project Sunshine has been active for 10 years, members recently decided to transfer their volunteer time from Miami Children’s Hospital to Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.

“There’s a big need for volunteers at the hospital,” McCormack said. “They have a lot of programs set but few resources.”

New volunteers are required to undergo training and orientation at the hospital where staff members remind them of specific guidelines to follow.
They recommend that volunteers do not ask the children why they are at the hospital and keep them focused on the exciting activity at hand. Staff members also emphasize how important it is to refrain from becoming emotional.

“I’ve never showed emotion because the kids may get more scared,” Raffa said. “We reflect on our own experiences after we’re with the children, but I always notice how confident and courageous they really are.”

Project Sunshine hopes to sponsor events that keep the students socially active and assist the children with medical challenges. Their next plan is to teach the children how to make ice cream, an activity they believe would put a smile on anyone’s face.

Jonathan Borge may be contacted at