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An Interview With Marsha Jordan of The Hugs and Hope Club for Sick Kids

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Marsha Jordan gives sick kids a reason to smile. She believes that children shouldn’t suffer, but sadly many children do suffer. Who is Marsha Jordon you ask? Marsha Jordon is the founder of Hugs and Hope Club for Sick Kids.

Hugs and Hope is a ministry devoted to brightening the lives of children who are battling a critical illness. Having a child with a chronic or terminal illness is stressful for any family. Thanks to Hugs and Hope, parents do not need to face this alone. I caught up with Marsha via email, where she shared with me the history behind Hugs and Hope ministry.

So tell us a little about the history behind Hugs and Hope.

It began as my hobby of sending cheery mail to hospitalized children. It all started with one little boy who had a brain tumor. My heart was deeply touched by Michael because he was the same age as my grandson. After telling many of my friends and family about him, asking them to send mail as well, I began receiving so many requests for updates on Michael that I asked his family's permission to create a website where I could post his latest news. People who were curious to learn how Michael was doing could simply log on to the site and read the most recent message sent by his grandmother. Before I knew it, other families began begging me to post their child on the site too; and now it's grown to hundreds of pages with stories about children from across the country.

How long has Hugs and Hope been in operation?

My hobby of sending "happy mail" began in the fall of 2000. It became a nonprofit charity in 2003, when I had nearly 3,000 volunteer "hug givers and hope builders" helping to spread cheer nationwide.

Why was Hugs and Hope started?

When my grandson was badly burned, I learned how helpless and devastated an adult feels when their little one is suffering. I could empathize with parents whose children were battling illnesses like cancer or serious injuries. I wanted to encourage these families and let them know that someone out there cared about what they were going through and knew how they were feeling. I corresponded with moms and grandmothers mostly. I sent mail to the kids too, because I knew how sad and afraid they must feel when they have little to look forward besides pain, needles, and medical testing.

I understood fear, worry, and loneliness because I've battled depression and a connective tissue disease for a good portion of my adult life. I was unexpectedly struck blind, due to complications of my illness. I thought, "If this scares me as much as it does, think of how terrified a child must be when they face pain and worry about an unsure future." I can't take their pain away or promise them a brighter tomorrow, but I can help make today a little happier by sharing a smile with them.

How did Hugs and Hopes get its name?

When considering a name for the group, I thought about how I feel when I see a child in a hospital bed or wheel chair. The first thing I want to do is give them a big hug. Then I want to be able to offer them some hope for the future by sharing God's love with them. Thus, the Hugs and Hope "club for sick kids" was born. Later, when it became a 501(c)3 charity, the official name became the Hugs and Hope Foundation.

What are some of the ways people can help support the site?

People can participate in a number of ways, depending upon how much time they want to invest. It can be as simple as sending a card to one child or even mailing birthday cards to the children celebrating another year of life this month. Other ways to get involved include sponsoring a child for Christmas, delivering balloons to a child who is hospitalized for surgery, helping to grant wishes or provide birthday parties, volunteering as a "parent pal" (extending friendship to a specific mom who needs someone to talk to regularly), or taking part in our 24-hour chat group to support parents who are isolated and in need of a listening ear.

Many volunteers use their individual skills and imagination to come up with great ideas like sewing a pillow case and tote bag for each child to take with them to the hospital. Some knit hats for children who have lost their hair from chemo treatments. Authors send copies of their books to the children on our site and musicians send CDs. Grandmothers make quilts. We basically post the children's information and then let visitors to our website decide what they'd like to do for each child.

Tell us about how you help the parents. Does Hugs and Hopes make a difference?

Parents tell me that Hugs and Hope is a tremendous gift to them because it gives them such a lift to know there are people who care about what their family is going through. Parents make many lasting friendships through our group — with volunteers as well as with parents in similar situations. Our chat group and the Parent Pal Program help parents maintain contact with adults when they are often isolated and homebound with their sick child. The Christmas and birthday programs help financially, since many of these parents are struggling with so many medical bills.

And for the kids, yes, I can proudly say we definitely do make a difference. Many parents have related how their child's demeanor changes after they begin receiving mail from new friends around the country. One little boy commented to his mom that he had no idea there were so many people in the world. "And they all love me!" he told her.

Kids who previously were too depressed to get dressed or to even get out of bed soon began waking up full of enthusiasm because they couldn't wait to see what each day's mail would bring.

One little boy had so many brain tumors that he could no longer walk, talk, or see. He would lie on the couch and frequently point toward the window. His mom knew that meant he was asking whether the mailman had arrived. When she told him no, he'd sigh and lie back; but when she'd tell him, "The mail's here," he would sit up, smile, and clap his hands. What a great feeling to know that our small efforts mean that much to a child!

Tell us about one of the children that you've helped.

I can't tell about only one! There are just too many fabulous stories to share, like the little girl who lost an eye to cancer. Her parents had to fly across country each month for treatments that cost $80,000 each. Within a week after posting her story on the Hugs and Hope website, her medical fund increased by $10,000. I thought that was awesome. I was thrilled that by working together, people from every state could help this girl's family with their expenses.

One little boy loved the cards he received so much that he slept with them under his pillow. That makes me realize how meaningful mail is to these kids.

One of my favorite stories is about two 10-year-old boys in our group. One was from New York and one from Florida. Their mothers became best of friends after meeting through our group. The boys had the same type of cancer and both had bone marrow transplants in the same hospital. They were both in isolation for months because they had no immunity. They saw no one except nurses and their moms.

The boys were bored and lonely. We were able to grant each of them a wish just before they passed away. Zach wanted his own electric guitar; and Justin, who loved reptiles, got to meet "Jungle Jim" who put on a personal, private wild animal show for him right at the hospital. I have photos of these two boys with huge smiles on their faces. It was heartwarming to know that Hugs and Hope was able to create those smiles and make their last weeks of life a little happier.

Now you wrote a book, Hugs and Hope and Peanut Butter. What an unusual name for a book! Tell us about the book and your reasoning behind the name.

I send a weekly newsletter to volunteers and parents of sick children. In the newsletter, I write updates about some of the children, reminders of birthdays, and so on. I also try to include an encouraging or funny story to help cheer readers and inspire them. So many people told me that they loved these stories and wished they could have keep them all that I decided to put them into book form. I asked the kids to send me drawings to illustrate the essays, and Jada Press agreed to print the book as a gift to the children. People often assume that the book is filled with sad stories. Not true! It's a book of hope and filled with laughter.

Using the group name, Hugs and Hope, in the title seemed natural, and the peanut butter part came from my favorite saying: Hope, love, and joy are sticky like peanut butter. When you spread them around, you can't help but get some on yourself too.

Where can we purchase a copy of the book?

The book is available at Amazon and in major book stores, as well as from the Hugs and Hope website.

Where can we go to learn more about Hugs and Hope?

You can go to our website.

Is there anything that you wish to ad?

I always like to encourage people to take just a few moments to help someone, somehow. Often, people want to do good; but they don't know where to begin or they think there's nothing they could do that would make a difference. Small efforts can have huge impacts, and you can make a difference without investing a lot of money or time. We each have the opportunity and the ability to influence our world for good. Let's not let those opportunities slip by. If we each do a little, think of what we can accomplish! We can make the world a happier place — one smile at a time. And one of the smiles you create just might be your own!

Whether you create graphics for a child's website, send a cheer card, or drop a gift in the mail to one of these adorable children, your kindness does not go unnoticed. Have you seen the movie Pay It Forward? Haley Joel Osment plays a young boy who is challenged by his teacher to do something which would make the world a better place. His idea is the "pay it forward" concept in which you do a good deed for someone, who then does a good deed for three people.

Today is your chance to do a good deed. Log on to The Hugs and Hope Club website. All it takes is a little love and the cost of a postage stamp to make a child’s day. As Marsha Jordan says, ” Happiness is like sticky peanut butter — when you spread it around, you can't help but get some on you.”

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About Rose DesRochers