Battling a serious illness can rob young patients of a normal childhood and even an understanding of what a carefree childhood should be. For past seven years, Mayo Medical School students in Rochester have been doing their best to help pediatric patients forget about their illnesses and feel like a kid again, if even for a little while, during an event they've dubbed the Winter Warmth Festival.
The event has grown in size and scope each year since its start in 2008, but Sean Cantwell, one of the many medical students who helps organize the festival, says the mission has stayed the same. "Our goal has been to offer children an opportunity to put their health care on hold for a few hours," he says. "It’s hard to feel like a kid when you’re in and out of hospital rooms and doctor’s offices all of the time, so we hope this carnival-type event might offer these boys and girls (as well as their families) a brief respite from having to think about their medical obligations."
Cantwell says the festival is modeled after a typical children’s carnival. Past activities, according to the festival's website, have included "face painting, balloon animals, an inflatable bounce house and obstacle course, cookie decorating, carnival games, and more." On top of that, there have also been special appearances by equally special guests, like "therapy dogs, magicians, clowns, and Rochester's Strongest Man." Best of all, the event, including all food and activities, is free.
Diana Vork, another medical student helping to organize this year's event, tells us the festival also gives parents and other family members a chance to meet others who may be going through similar circumstances. "Brighter Tomorrows, a local non-profit that connects families of children affected by cancer, are sponsors of our event, and I think they understand how important community support can be in the face of serious illnesses," she says. "So, in addition to giving kids the chance to have a day away from their medical treatments, it also gives their families members a chance to connect with others."
This year's festival is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 24, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the gymnasium at The Church of St. John the Evangelist in Rochester. For more information, or to RSVP or donate to the event, visit the Winter Warmth Festival website.
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