By Chelsea Miller
Working with cancer patients and children with terminal illnesses could be disheartening for some, but volunteer Jen Koch saw a unique opportunity.
As a volunteer at Akron Children’s Hospital, Koch remembered thinking that those children, who often faced physically altering treatments, could use a pick-me-up.
“It just really struck a chord with me to see a child with no hair and with scars. It’s so easy to be moved,” she said.
So Koch, of Sagamore Hills, decided to lighten up the children’s spirits with Smiles with Style, a nonprofit organization she formed to offer mini-makeovers to the children.
Koch, who volunteers at Akron Children’s Hospital and approximately once a week at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said she has seen the positive results that can be achieved with just a little lip gloss or a plastic tiara.
“It takes as little as five minutes to change their whole day,” she said.
Shari Racut, manager of family and child services at Rainbow, said the staff immediately jumped on board when they were contacted by Koch, who offered her services to patients.
“It’s an amazing program. We owe that all to Jen,” she said.
Koch, who pushed her makeover cart through the hospital’s halls a few weeks ago, said the great thing about the program is the cost. Makeovers can be offered for as little as $5 to $10 worth of supplies, which are often donated by friends and local organizations.
And some local students are hoping to expand the program.
Pre-med students at the Cleveland Clinic in Lorain brainstormed ideas to fund Smiles with Style. A fundraiser was held at Ziggy’s Pub and Restaurant in Amherst last month, and students planned for another fundraiser at a local Applebee’s restaurant in July.
“These students are really go-getters,” said Matt Frombach, administrator at the Cleveland Clinic in Lorain.
He added that students are not only exposed to the medical field at the Cleveland Clinic, but are also asked to get involved with the community through service projects.
Student Chair Liz Bruno said pre-med students chose Smiles with Style because the organization was unique, and because the program is in its infancy, students had the opportunity to help it grow.
“I think we really liked the idea behind it,” she said. “Lifting the kids’ spirits would be great.”
Student Chair Chris Petek said students hope to expand Smiles with Style to the Columbus and Dayton areas, with the help of Koch.
Koch estimates she has visited approximately 100 patients since the start of Smiles with Style, and she has contacted other local medical facilities, like the Cleveland Clinic and Providence House, to gauge their interest in the program.
She visited one patient at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in early June. The patient, 13-year-old Nyia Hawkins of North Olmsted, had been rushed to the hospital for a severe asthma attack.
“I hate to relive it, but I know she was in good hands,” said Hawkins’ grandmother and legal guardian, Dolores Fronick.
Fronick looked on as Koch applied lip gloss to Hawkins, whom she also provided with a headband and necklace.
Hawkins, who was later released from the hospital, said Smiles with Style was a nice program for patients who are often stuck indoors during their treatment.
Koch wrote on Smiles with Style’s website, www.smileswithstyle.org, that she was “blown away” by the reaction from one little girl, who received her first makeover during the start of Smiles with Style.
“I thought about how easy it was to make the kids smile and forget about the hospital. That’s the beauty of children. When you tell them they look pretty or handsome, they don’t question it. They believe it!” she wrote. “The opportunity to nourish and grow their amazing spirits, their sense of bravery and their hope for the future kept pulling at my heartstrings.”