Saturday, 21 June 2008

Charitable Donations: Companions in Courage

Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen all sorts of charitable organizations who are doing phenomenal work in helping to find cures for a number of diseases. However, helping to solve the medical issues is only one way that NHL players can help. As we saw with the Mario Lemieux Foundation's efforts in establishing The Playroom Project, allowing children to escape the moment of being sick is one of the best things that we can do. A smile is enormous on a sick child's face, and laughter, as they say, is the best medicine. With that in mind, Hockey Blog In Canada is proud to speak about Companions in Courage today.

Mission Statement: As their website states, "[o]ur mission is quite simple. No child in the fight for life or health should ever have to go through it alone. At Companions in Courage Foundation, we are here to give courage, friendship, compassion and support to those children and families who are overcoming illness and life-threatening obstacles". Companions in Courage (CiC) was founded in 1997 by NHL Hall of Fame forward Pat LaFontaine, and works to remove the isolation of hospital stays for children by providing interactive playrooms where children can escape the burdens of their hospital stays.

How Did Companions In Courage Start?: Mr. LaFontaine's work in Buffalo at the Buffalo Children's Hospital gave him unique insight on what battles children face while staying at the hospital.

"The evolution of this Foundation began during Pat's years with the Buffalo Sabres. Dedicating much of his off-ice time at Buffalo Children's Hospital, Pat began to appreciate the power of another person's strengths. 'Being with these kids – knowing their smiles, their pain and their courage – changed my life. They taught me about life and death. These children left me with a simple reality: We don't always have much control over what happens to us, but we do have a choice in how we respond.'"

Mr. LaFontaine decided to help as many children as possible after his retirement in 1998. Working with Edwin Schlossberg and his renowned ESI Design team in New York City, Mr. LaFontaine worked to establish a series of "Lion's Den" rooms in children's hospitals across the state of New York. Partnering with reputable companies such as the Microsoft Corporation and Cisco Systems, Mr. LaFontaine created unique rooms designed to make children's lives better while at the respective hospitals.

The Lion's Den rooms are quite impressive. I'll allow the Companions in Courage website to talk about these fabulous rooms designed exclusively for children.

"Patients learn about the Lion’s Den Room when they first check into the hospital. They receive an eye-catching 'smart' card that tells them they are members of a special community with unique privileges.

"The key is an ID device that allows each child to personalize their experience within the Lion’s Den Room. When patients use their key to enter the main activity area, they are greeted with a gentle flourish of sound and lights. The room is set up with areas for group games, pods for semi-private conversations, and individual computer stations unlike any they’ve ever seen before. Stations are equipped with a keyboard and other input devices such as drawing tablets, touch pads and joysticks, all on flexible supports that children can easily adjust for their comfort.

"Children log-on to computer stations using their 'key' and are greeted. The 'smart' function of the key makes sure they are directed to content and activities that suit their age level. Children can participate in semi-private video conference 'pods' with classmates, their parents, or other family members. Some children may opt to collaborate on an animation project available on the network. Still others may elect to challenge other online participants in games and tasks. The children can also choose from more than 150 movies available on the system. The system also remembers children from one visit to the next, so they can pick up an activity wherever they left off."

That's a pretty phenomenal room. However, it doesn't stop there. Because the rooms are fully connected on a network, children can take part in special events that are broadcast to each of the rooms. Celebrities, sports heroes, and role models can drop by any of the children's hospitals, and their visit is broadcast back to the other respective hospitals. "For instance, if Pat LaFontaine visits children in Buffalo, that visit can be streamed live to all of the other Lion’s Den Rooms on the network". I'd say that's pretty cool.

But it doesn't stop there. The Lion's Den rooms allows children to also "connect with the people and activities of their normal lives. It offers children opportunities for play, communication and creativity and is responsive to each patient’s particular interests. An oasis from the poking and prodding often associated with hospital stays, the Lion’s Den Room provides a brief respite to allow a kid to be a kid".

Now, you're probably asking yourself "where are these rooms located", and that's why I'm writing this. You can actually see images of any of the rooms already built, thanks to the Companions in Courage website. The inaugural Lion's Den was opened at the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Westchester, New York. There's also a Lion's Den at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (also featured as a partner of the Steadfast Foundation) in Buffalo, New York. The third Lion's Den room built is located at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in New York City, New York. There's a fourth Lion's Den at the Women and Children's Hopsital of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York.

Companions in Courage actually uses several resources to ensure that the majority of the money donated to the organization gets to the people that need it. One resource is Network for Good. Network for Good offers people the opportunity to give to one's favorite charity or charities while having all "donation records stored and accessible at any time". For more information on Network for Good's donation process, please click here. For Companions in Courage, the use of this service allows CiC to "keep its overhead down, thereby allowing us to use more of the money donated for our programs, and less for our expenses", and that's always a good reason to use this resource.

Another resource that Companions in Courage uses, and one I may start using more often, is GuideStar. GuideStar is an online resource that gathers and publicizes information about non-profit groups. In fact, they have a mission statement:

"GuideStar's mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving."

This transparency allows people to see exactly how their donated dollars are being spent, and to what initiatives they are going. You have to sign up to view the information in their database, but registration is free, and will allow you, the reader of this blog, to better research some of these non-profit organizations. I'm not going to post the financial information about Companions in Courage on here, so I encourage you to sign up and see how this excellent organization is working to make children's lives better.

Of course, there are a number of hockey people involved in this organization. Pat LaFontaine is the President. His wife, Marybeth, works within the organization at the various events that they hold. Former Pittsburgh Penguins star, Mario Lemieux, is an Honourary Board Member, and Companions in Courage and the Mario Lemieux Foundation support one another in their endeavours. Buffalo Sabres owner, Thomas Golisano, is on the Board of Trustees along with agent Don Meehan, Mr. LaFontaine's former agent. I encourage you to check out each list of the Board of Directors, the Board of Trustees, the Honourary Board, and the Medical Board for more information about all the wonderful people involved with Companions in Courage.

I encourage everyone to check out the print media, the photo gallery, and the video gallery in order to see and hear some excellent stories.

How Can I Help?: The first place I would direct anyone interested in this organization is to their Frequently Asked Questions page. It contains a load of information that can answer the majority of questions you may have. Like the other organizations features, Companions in Courage also accepts donations. If you'd prefer to send your donation via snail mail, please write to:

Companions in Courage Foundation
attn: Pat LaFontaine
P.O. Box 768
Huntington, NY 11743

The organization also holds events to help raise funds. If you're interested in becoming a sponsor of an event, or becoming a major donor, please email the organization at CiC16-at-optonline-dot-net.

Volunteering is an excellent way to help out as well, however Companions in Courage would rather see people volunteer at their local children's hospital. Please check with your local hospital to see if there are opportunities available.

If you're interested in buying merchandise produced for Companions in Courage, I suggest you check out this link. Now, it's a little bare, but check back soon as they continue to get their list of merchandise on their site.

Before I wrap this up, I suggest watching this excellent video segment done by the CBC's Hockey Night In Canada on Pat LaFontaine's work with Companions in Courage.

This story is quite touching. Excellent work, Mr. LaFontaine.

Companions in Courage, the NHLPA, and Pat and Marybeth LaFontaine are helping the communities they live in. It's time for us to help them as well.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: