The lobby of the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa is bright and cheerful, with huge swaths of primary colors and robust plants in every corner. Light streams in through tall windows and the casual artwork of children intermingles with professional pieces on the walls. The chairs are comfortable and the staffers upbeat.
It is, however, still the entry point to a hospital. And that means it can still be a frightening place for a young girl or boy battling illness.
On Monday afternoon, however, the St. Joseph's lobby was transformed into a very comfortable place for several dozen pediatric patients, thanks to the latest phase in the Glazer Family Foundation's long-running "Cheering You On!" program. Not only did the children enjoy arts-and-crafts and an ice-cream social, but they also learned how the program could soon be bringing their families exciting prizes in addition to some much-needed comfort.
Initially launched in 1999, the "Cheering You On!" program has helped lift the spirits of young patients for more than a decade by providing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers teddy bear to every child admitted to one of eight hospitals in the Central Florida area. The Foundation expects to pass the half-million mark in donated bears in 2012, which are meant to provide a measure of reassurance and security at a difficult time.
"I'm a mother of three, and I know the emotional toll that staying at a hospital can have on a young child," said Foundation Co-President Darcie Glazer Kassewitz. "Receiving an unexpected gift can mean the world to a boy or girl who is going through an uncomfortable, and sometimes scary, experience."
The "Cheering You On!" initiative is missing just one thing, however: Names for the two versions of the bears, which are presented to the patients in either boy or girl outfits. That's about to change, thanks to the creativity of the same children and families who have found such comfort in the familiar toys. The purpose of Monday's event at St. Joseph's – in addition to giving the young patients a fun distraction in the middle of the day – was to announce the Glazer Family Foundation's new sweepstakes, which will result in names for the two bears and produce coveted prizes at the same time.
The sweepstakes, which began Friday on the Glazer Family Foundation website, invites parents to submit potential names created by their children for the boy and girl teddy bears. The former is clad in a black-and-red Buccaneers outfit while the latter sports a pink Buccaneers cheerleader dress and a pink bow on its head. Name suggestions for both bears will be accepted through August 31, and Foundation representatives will then pick the top five options.
On September 5, the five final options for each bear will be revealed on the Glazer Family Foundation's Facebook page. Visitors will then be urged to visit the Foundation website to vote on their favorite choices.
At the end of the process, a name will be chosen for each bear and 10 lucky participants will be chosen to receive a special Buccaneer VIP experience. Sweepstake entrants do NOT have to submit one of the five name finalists or vote for the eventual selections in order to win. Rather, five entrants will be chosen at random from among all individuals who submit a name suggestion, and another five will be chosen at random from among all individuals who vote in the final poll.
Each selected participant will receive a VIP experience that consists of the following:
- Four tickets to a 2011 Buccaneers home game;
- A parking pass to the same game;
- A VIP pregame on-field photo;
- And a meet-and-greet with the Buccaneers Cheerleaders.
The idea to name the bears came to Kassewitz recently while she was in the bedroom of one of her children. "I noticed that all of the bears were named," she said. "Then I remembered that when I was growing up all of my teddy bears had names, too. So we thought it was time to ask the kids what we should name the [Cheering You On!] teddy bears. We figured they would know best."
Leah Fronerath, child life supervisor at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, has seen the benefits of the "Cheering You On!" program for years and thinks the naming sweepstakes is an outstanding concept.
"The teddy bears are a really great way to bring some softness and gentleness to an otherwise frightening environment," said Fronerath. "And whether it's a matter of naming the trademark bear or their own bears, this is a way to exert some control over certain aspects of their lives. "
While Kassewitz and hospital representatives explained the teddy bear program and the new naming sweepstakes, boys and girls worked on Buccaneer activity books at nearby tables, playing games and coloring images of bears. Courtney Russ, a three-year veteran on the Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad who was dressed in a pink outfit identical to the girl bear, played hangman with one eager patient and posed for pictures with others. Across the lobby, an elaborate ice cream sundae bar was waiting for the kids; half of them hurried over to the ice cream at the end of Kassewitz's presentation but many stayed behind to continue working on their pictures.
Their finished products gave an idea as to the level of creativity these young patients and their families are likely to bring to the naming contest, as bears of every color – including one very precise rainbow-hued fellow – took shape. And every boy or girl whose parents submit a potential name, or even vote in the second stage of the sweepstakes, will have a chance to receive that Buccaneers VIP experience.
"Giving the kids a chance to name that bear is a wonderful opportunity for them to use their expression and their creativity," said Fronerath, "as well as to exert some control over something that they would never usually get an opportunity to do."
To submit a name for either bear, please visit glazerfamilyfoundation.org.