Moonbeams for Sweet Dreams shines a light on kids at Beaumont Children’s during the holiday season.
By Susan Peck
Photos courtesy Ed Morykwas
Many can’t imagine the holidays without the glow of twinkling lights and festivities that add magic to the season. But children in the hospital miss much of the holiday fun, making it a time that’s anything but merry and bright.
Moonbeams for Sweet Dreams, a program created last year by Beaumont Children’s Pediatric Family Advisory Council at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, illuminates the lives of those children, making special holiday memories every evening in December. The program uplifts children who are facing everything from cancer to diabetes and respiratory illnesses, some experiencing long-term hospital stays.
“Our pediatric patients shine flashlights from the hospital windows and look for community members standing outside the hospital to respond by flashing them back,” says Beaumont Children’s Child Life Supervisor Kathleen Grobbel, who helps organize the nightly event.
As the clock ticks close to 8 p.m., the skywalk windows of Beaumont’s fifth-floor pediatric unit line with children using wheelchairs and walkers and hooked up to IVs. They squirm with excitement for the light show to begin. On cue, the crowd of all ages assembled in the parking area waves flashlights, glow sticks and cellphones, sending delight to the small faces in the windows above.
“Many children can feel isolated in the hospital as the rest of the world celebrates this time of the year without them. But with the help of each person who shows up to brighten their night, we make sure they feel connected and go to bed with smiles on their faces,” Grobbel says. “It has a huge, positive impact on their morale.”
Moonbeams for Sweet Dreams was a success last year and the same is expected this holiday season, according to Beaumont’s Pediatric Advisory Council, which was started by eight parents to improve the hospital experience for children and families. “More than 10,000 supporters will share a sweet good night with more than 700 children throughout the month of December,” says pediatric council member and Royal Oak resident Megan McClellan, who saw the program on the East Coast and brought the idea to Michigan.
The program is modeled after Good Night Lights at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, which started in December 2015 thanks to Steve Brosnihan, a therapeutic cartoonist at Hasbro. Brosnihan would shine his bike lights up at the patients’ rooms to connect with them. He later decided to get the public involved by inviting local businesses to join with their lights. Royal Oak is the first city in Michigan to adopt a similar program, and McClellan says Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids is inquiring about implementing it in the future.
Parents like McClellan know firsthand the heartache that the children in the window experience, because her child was at Beaumont the December before the Moonbeams program launched. “We were feeling pretty isolated at that time,” she says. “That’s why I’m really passionate about our mission that says, ‘no one is alone who has community.’ ”
“Initially, we hoped for at least 25 volunteers to be outside shining lights for the children, and kept our fingers crossed for that many to show up,” McClellan says. “We were amazed when the large groups bearing freezing temperatures showed up.”
Participants spanned from local high schools, holiday carolers, The Salvation Army band, and policemen and firefighters in trucks, to a Detroit Edison crew in a truck that traveled two hours to be there for the children, McClellan says.
Sister Francesca Therese, Christian service director at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in Beverly Hills, is planning to participate with students and parents again this year. “To be a part of an event like this is oftentimes life-changing for the students and adults that get involved,” she says. “Especially when we reach out to the children who are so innocent and precious.”
It’s a group effort that keeps the grassroots program glowing and growing. The Beaumont pediatric nursing staff plays a valuable part by staying after their assigned shifts to prepare the children for the nightly event. And Grobbel says there are countless heartwarming stories that happen like last year when the area was hit with severe snow storms that made driving conditions hazardous. “A local neighborhood in Royal Oak got together and braved the weather to walk over to the hospital to shine their lights for the children, because they didn’t want them to be disappointed,” Grobbel says.
Additional support comes from the Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit that raises funds and awareness for 170 member hospitals across the U.S. and Canada, including Beaumont Children’s. Funding from the Children’s Miracle Network supports Beaumont’s Child Life Program, as well as Moonbeams for Sweet Dreams.
Riley Helms, 16, of Canton has been on both sides of the window to experience the positive effects from the Moonbeams program. Last December she volunteered to shine lights with her family, and then later that month was treated at Beaumont for borderline ovarian cancer. “I know how much joy I felt sending the light up to the children, but receiving it when I had to be in the hospital filled my heart so much more,” Helms says, “and I could see the other kids in my situation felt the same way.”
If You Go
Moonbeams begins every night in December at 8 p.m. Parking is available in the small parking lot across from the North Parking Deck and just east of the Medical Office Building on Beaumont’s Royal Oak campus. From the 13 Mile entrance, follow the blue signs toward the North parking deck and park in the lot across from the deck entrance. Participants will gather on the sidewalk near the Medical Office building and across from the East entrance.
Donate to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at beaumont.org/CMN. Mail monetary donations or flashlights to Kim Tyle at Beaumont Health Foundation 3711 W. 13 Mile Road, Royal Oak, Mi. 48073.