Lonely, forgotten, sad and isolated. These four words only begin to describe how kids can feel when they are hospitalized.
Jen Rubino of Park Ridge can relate. Jen was 11 when she was first diagnosed with a connective tissue and bone disease—undergoing more than 20 surgeries to treat the illness. During her time in the hospital, she received a handmade card from a volunteer that made her feel remembered and loved.
That feeling is what led Jen to start Cards for Hospitalized Kids (CFHK). CFHK spreads hope, joy and magic to hospitalized kids across America through uplifting, handmade cards created by volunteers. They host card-making events, and also invite people to organize and host their own. Since 2011, CFHK has distributed cards to more than 40,000 kids across all 50 states—some have been signed by celebrities and athletes such as Lauren Conrad and Nastia Liukin.
[pullquote]’Let your passion fuel you’: Inspiring Q&A with the college student who’s brought comfort to 40,000 hospitalized kids[/pullquote]
The Chicago Community Trust sat down with Jen, now 21 and a student at Georgetown University, to talk more about founding CFHK and her philanthropic mindset at a young age.
Q: When did you start giving back? Tell us about your first experience with giving or receiving.
A: During one particularly rough hospital stay, I received a card from a hospital volunteer that really brightened my day. It had a huge impact on me, and I knew that once I was better I wanted to help other kids who were going through similar experiences. I never knew how I was going to reach these kids, but I started making cards with my friends and brought them to my hospital. This then grew into the nonprofit I started, Cards for Hospitalized Kids.
Q: What is the greatest act of kindness or giving you have witnessed?
A: One of the first kids that received a card from us was a girl who was having a heart transplant at Lurie Children’s Hospital. She had to be in the hospital several months both before and after her procedure and received numerous cards from CFHK during her stay. Not even two months after she got out of the hospital following her recovery, she started making cards with us for other kids. I thought it was amazing that she had received a card from us, and then she ultimately wanted to give to other kids as well; it’s just really cool.
Q: How has giving changed the way you think about receiving help from others?
A: It changes your perspective. I have received, and now I have also given. It makes you appreciate everything that other people do, even the simple things. A card seems so simple, but it makes you appreciate the efforts that others do for someone they don’t even know.
Q: You are a philanthropist—what advice do you have for others who want to do good?
A: Well, I didn’t even know anybody who had ever done this sort of thing before, so I had no experience at all with designing a website or even how to get CFHK off the ground and running. If you let your passion fuel you, you will figure out how to achieve your philanthropic goals. It’s so easy as a young person to feel like you don’t have the ability to do that much, especially since we don’t have a lot of money or many resources. But if this charitable deed is something you are really passionate about or have a personal tie to, it will all just fall into place.