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North Hills Monthly

Make Room For Kids Provides Sick Children with Gaming Systems

Dec 01, 2014 10:31AM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe
In 2010, Pittsburgh Magazine columnist and local blogger Virginia Montanez attempted to win an online contest that would award Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC $10,000 to create a gaming playroom for its patients. Unsuccessful but undeterred, she then approached the Mario Lemieux Foundation to ask if they would partner with her to raise the money from social media. After a successful effort that netted over $14,000 from Montanez’s readers, the Mario Lemieux Foundation worked with Children’s Hospital staff to devise a program that would provide gaming for the sickest patients with the longest stays. This vision, dubbed Make Room for Kids, was originally planned as a common area, a single room, where sick children could go to play video games. 

Eight years before Make Room for Kids, the parents of a young cancer victim had funded gaming systems for the children in the oncology unit after watching their own son struggle to find a place to fit in at the hospital. Too old for the Kids Playroom and too young for the Teen Lounge, 12-year-old Matt always enjoyed video games, but with only two gaming units on his floor, he often had to wait. After his passing, his family initially provided gaming systems for individual rooms and then later raised the funds for Matt’s Media Room, which served as the precursor for Make Room for Kids.

But what about children who were too sick to leave their rooms? What could be done so that they had access to the same gaming systems? With this concern in mind, over the next several months, the foundation forged a partnership with Pittsburgh’s regional Microsoft office and their employees, who gave generous donations to the cause. By combining their large donation with the social media donations, Make Room for Kids was able to outfit the entire seventh floor of the hospital—the transplant unit—with in-room gaming, handheld gaming, laptops and more.

Today, Make Room for Kids is an official extension of the Austin’s Playroom Project at the Mario Lemieux Foundation. To date, the program has donated more than $125,000 worth of gaming systems, handheld games, iPads, movie players and more to the hospital, including 150 Xbox systems. In 2014, the program provided gaming systems to the Cardiology Unit, Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), and Trauma, Orthopedics and Neurosurgery Unit. To ensure that children have games that are appropriate for their age levels and interests, Child Life specialists work to match each patient with games. 

According to Nancy Angus, executive director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, there are big things to come. “We are finalizing our 2015 install at this time and look forward to announcing very soon the next unit or units at Children’s Hospital that will benefit from this program,” she said.

Funding is still necessary to keep the program going. Microsoft and their employees continue to make donations and receive matching gifts from their corporate office. More social media fundraising will kick off in February. “Our goal is to raise $10,000 toward the current phase of installs and to maintain the previous years’ installs,” said Angus, adding that the foundation updates hardware, components and games as often as they can. Donations can be made by visiting the Mario Lemieux Foundation website and earmarking your donation to Make Room for Kids.

While the impact that this program has on patients can’t be measured, children, parents and staff know that it is making a difference. “Recently during the WDVE Rocks for Children’s Radiothon fundraising event, there was an interview with a young cancer patient who simply raved about having in-room gaming to help him through his treatments,” said Angus. “That’s why we continue to run this program.”  

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