"For many of these children, their childhood unfortunately gets taken away from them far too early," says Lia Brodrick (C'22), as she reflects on her reasons for bringing A Moment of Magic to Penn's campus.
There are currently 22 chapters of the national nonprofit organization, whose goal is to provide college students the opportunity to volunteer and dress up as princesses, superheroes, and fairy tale characters in the hopes of brightening the days of medically vulnerable children. “We want to be there for these children and provide them with a brief escape, a little bit of fun, and bring them a little bit of their childhood back," Lia describes.
Lia describes the two “pillars of her identity” as her equal love for theater and community service. Upon coming to Penn, she found herself searching for a place to fit in on campus while also doing what she loved. After a friend of hers from high school started a chapter of A Moment of Magic at UNC Chapel Hill, Lia realized that this could be a way for her to combine her dual passions. She reflects: “The idea of bringing a character to life and volunteering for a cause that I think is so incredible was really appealing to me. I applied to start a chapter in the Spring of 2019 and fell in love with the cause, and continue to more and more.”
Lia adds that A Moment of Magic is far more than just theatrics, it's advocacy. "About 80% of the children that we try to help suffer from pediatric cancer. Pediatric cancer only receives 4% of funding from the American Cancer Association, so we want to serve as advocates for why they deserve more."
Penn's chapter currently has around 30 active members—a mix of board members, students who dress up as characters, and “magic makers," who are volunteers that don’t dress up. Lia runs weekly training sessions with all members on a variety of subjects including hygiene in hospitals, emotional support, specialized visit training, and other character and integrity training.
Though A Moment of Magic isn’t currently able to conduct in–person visits due to the pandemic, they generally visit children all over the Philadelphia area, and are hoping to do so again as soon as possible. Characters used to visit children at Philadelphia's Ronald McDonald houses, Weisman Children's Hospital, Make a Wish, Shriners Hospital for Children, and various other nonprofit organizations.The organization has now pivoted in order to switch entirely to virtual visits—Facetime and Skype video chatting with children now dominates their programming.
"In March, A Moment of Magic did a huge jump, increasing those calls by 60 to 70 percent. All of the chapters came together, and there’s now multiple calls a day that children can sign up for with various characters,” Lia explains.
The organization has also expanded its virtual programming using Facebook. Volunteers can read books, do crafts, and tell stories to children through this platform. They’ve also implemented a program called Wonder Wheels, where magic makers drive cars of characters past hospitals and kids’ houses to wave at them.
September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and Penn's A Moment of Magic encouraged several buildings in the Philly area, including The Wells Fargo Center, The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, The FMC Building, and Subaru of America, to light up gold, the color of Pediatric Cancer Awareness.
Though Lia misses the in–person visits, she’s proud of what the organization has been able to accomplish despite the circumstances. “It’s pretty remarkable to me that we haven’t really slowed down… the demand for what we do doesn’t stop in the midst of the pandemic. If anything, it gets more serious and we’re more needed and wanted. I’ve just been really proud of everyone for being able to pivot as we have,” Lia describes.
She adds: “We really try to say no to nothing. As long as they have children and families that have been affected by medical vulnerabilities, we want to be there."