During fall 2016, Western Michigan University junior and occupational therapy major, Audrey VanEssen was searching for a place to belong. It was at this time that she came across a video on an nonprofit organization called A Moment of Magic and “immediately fell in love” with a unique way to help her community while pursuing her passion for volunteering.
“I knew it was my passion and what I wanted to pursue, but I also have an immense love for these children that have to go through these horrible experiences and I want to be there for them,” VanEssen said.
AMOM has 10 chapters nationwide and their mission is to “restore the magic of believing at a time when a child needs to be 'just be a kid' and remind them to be brave, strong and fearless,” VanEssen said.
Members of this group do this by dressing as princesses and other children’s characters, and visiting them most often in hospitals, but other places as well.
By May, after gathering people together who would be interested and formulating a group within WMU, VanEssen applied to become an official chapter, along with 800 other people across the country, and received confirmation in June.
“10 out of 800 is a pretty cool thing to brag about it,” VanEssen, now chapter president, said. “AMOM loved our diverse university and the connection with the community, and we hope we can expand on that.”
After receiving confirmation, VanEssen and her vice president, Rachael Redmond attended a week long training in New York to learn how to run their chapter at WMU.
“I was fortunate enough to go on a visit as a Magic Maker,” VanEssen said. “These are the volunteers that go on visits not in costume.”
The group has since spent the summer establishing relationships with various hospitals in west Michigan and looking at how to expand beyond that. At their first meeting with a complete board of directors, they had over 50 people in attendance interested in bringing their own bit of magic to children, and they are hoping to do it outside of hospitals too.
“We do advertise hospitals, but we actually do so much more than that,” VanEssen said. “We attend events, do individual visits to children in their homes and even Skype (or) Facetime visits. We also want to let families know that if they need our services, they should not hesitate to contact us. We will make time for their family. My experiences thus far humble me every time and reaffirm that what we are doing is all for the kids, every single time.”
The chapter has planned visits throughout the semester at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital and Bronson Children’s hospital, and is in the midst of confirming other hospitals and events as well.
“Our mantra is to never say no, so we will find a way to provide our programming to children that need it, someway somehow,” VanEssen said. “We love doing room-to-room visits, but sometimes the child life specialist will set us up in a playroom. We do not put a limit on our visits, so we are there for as long as they need us.”
Within the next year, they want to successfully plan a large fundraiser and continue to put on one per semester. They are also hoping to reach 20 characters, and touch more than 50 individual children’s lives on a one-on-one basis during visits. Long term, they want to be recognized across campus and the community, and get their name out there. They are also hoping to have 20 percent of their chapter be males, because in VanEssen’s opinion, they have just as much magic to offer.
“We are not just a princess group,” VanEssen said. “We also have the option for males to dress as princes, superheroes or Star Wars characters. If they do not want to dress up, they are more than welcome to become Magic Makers and attend visits as themselves.”
Over the next two months, the group will be making an appearance at many events in Kalamazoo: the Oct. 28 Safe Halloween in Bronson Park, the Oct. 31 Helen Devos Children's Hospital Halloween Party, the Nov. 11 Kalamazoo Holiday Parade and the Nov. 24 Kalamazoo Tree Lighting Ceremony.
“All of our events have the purpose of spreading joy to the children that attend the event, to network with families that might need our services and to spread awareness about pediatric cancer and other serious illnesses,” VanEssen said.
As these events come about, AMOM at WMU is hoping to encourage more to join their volunteer group.
“We welcome everyone with a passion for changing the lives of these children,” VanEssen said. “To be in college and joining a group like this is unique and not the typical college experience, but it will be more than worth it.
The current group is passionate about this, and VanEssen is hoping that passion for a unique, fun way of making a difference spreads enough to entice new members.
“There is often a misconception with our organization that you have to look a certain way, but we will find a place for everyone,” VanEssen said. “Becoming a character is quite extensive, but we want people to be super prepared before dealing with children that have medical vulnerabilities. If volunteers can't commit to becoming a character, we always will welcome them as a Magic Maker.”
Anyone interested in joining or learning more about AMOM can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and asking to be added to the mailing list. The group is also on social media @AMOMWMU, and potential members can fill out an interest survey on the group’s Facebook page. If anyone wants to support the new chapter without joining, they can do so by donating at https://giveid.org/campaign/2QJ3GJWZ.
“We may only be a drop in the bucket for pediatric cancer, but if we can be a child's whole bucket, then that's all that matters,” VanEssen said.