CHICAGO — Jen Rubino knows how it feels to be sick and in the hospital at a young age. The 22-year-old was diagnosed with a rare childhood bone disease at 10 years old. She has spent years in and out of hospitals and has had more than 20 surgeries.
And something as simple as receiving a card meant the world to her back then.
"It basically was telling me I was amazing and to stay strong, and it seems simple but it really meant a lot to me at that time, especially it was probably the longest I had been in the hospital and I knew I faced up to a year of recovery after that," she says.
That’s what gave her the idea for Cards for Hospitalized Kids, a non-profit organization that creates and donates cards to cheer up kids in the hospital.
And while the support of her friends and family was important, it was a strangers card that really brightened her day.
“It’s a whole other feeling when you get something from someone that you don’t know to receive a card from somebody that has never met you, it makes you feel special and realized that you’re not forgotten.”
So, she set out to make sure other children would feel special, too.
By holding volunteer sessions like this one at the Park Ridge Library, kids make and create cards for their peers. Each one unique and special. Now, 5 years later, approximately 150,000 homemade cards have reached children in all 50 states, as well as the Ronald McDonald homes.
Denise Morrissey Chaveriat works with Advocate Children's Hospital, where she says Rubino’s cards have a tremendous impact.
"She’s just touching the lives of so many families across the country. And I think from her you can learn that a simple act of kindness, we all can be doing our part one way or another," Chaveriat said.
The program has grown so quickly that Rubino has had to move storage of the cards from her bedroom to a nearby office space. She’s also had to recruit a team of volunteers to help with the distribution process. Each card has to be sorted and inspected to ensure it follows hospital guidelines. It should not have glitter or materials that could interfere with the patient’s health.
And before it’s mailed, every single card is read and screened by Rubino and her team.
"We want the messages to be uplifting and positive and not focused on the child illness rather on them as a whole and that’s very important because certain kids that receive cards may have life threatening conditions or terminal conditions," Rubino said.
Rubino says she has received amazing feedback from families and kids and has built relationships with some. But what is most rewarding?
"To see me doing it for other kids just the way it was done for me when I was in the hospital," she said.
Rubino will head back to college in the fall, which is why it was so important for her to have a volunteers. If you would like to volunteer or make a card, you can visit the Cards for Hospitalized Kids' website.