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Hospital Puts On Homecoming Dance for Teen Patients

Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center employees and physicians volunteered their time to host a Homecoming Dance for their chronically ill teen patients. (Pictured left to right: Destiny Willis with her friends Aarionna Butte and Trinity Hayden)

For a few hours this fall, 13-year-old Destiny Willis wasn’t worrying about her illness. She was too busy doing something she had been missing — having a great time with her friends.

The eighth-grader from San Leandro has a chronic gastrointestinal condition that had her in and out of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center for a series of surgeries most of her seventh-grade year.

“I couldn’t go to school. I couldn’t play sports. And I couldn’t hang out with my friends because I was in a lot of pain,” she said. “I missed all the dances at my middle school last year.”

Charles "CJ" Rigmaiden with his friend Margaret Allen.
Charles “CJ” Rigmaiden and friend Margaret Allen

Many pediatric patients like Willis miss out on teenage traditions such as football games, dances, and much more. That’s why employees and physicians from the Oakland Medical Center’s Pediatrics Unit organized a Homecoming Dance for the hospital’s chronically ill teens this past fall. They teamed up with volunteer hair stylists, make-up artists, and the owners of a local restaurant

Eight teenagers aged 13 through 19 who were not currently in the hospital took part. All had been treated at Kaiser Permanente Oakland for illnesses such as leukemia, lupus, cancer, and sickle cell disease. They came with their friends to listen to music, share some food, and feel like regular teens.

It was billed as the “Homecoming Dance at Homeroom,” because the owners of the nearby Homeroom Mac and Cheese restaurant hosted the event. But the fun started back at the hospital.

More than thirty volunteer make-up and hair stylists, led by Nicholas Sanchez of Unity Salon in Pleasant Hill, took over a hospital conference room and helped the teens get ready. Sanchez, the stylists, and their clients donated more than 200 prom-style dresses and more than 100 dress shirts and ties for the teens to choose from.

The volunteer hair and makeup stylists call themselves the "Full Circle Design Team."
The volunteer stylists call themselves the “Full Circle Design Team.”

Sanchez is the hair stylist for Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Nurse Manager Jolynn Piazza, who said she asked him for help and “he just took it and ran with it.”

“It was such a moving experience for us to see the community come together to care for these teenagers in this way,” Piazza added.

Sanchez and the stylists also donated cash to hire the stretch limousine that whisked the teens away to Homeroom, where a red carpet was rolled out to welcome them. Inside they enjoyed dinner, dancing to a DJ who donated his services, and taking silly photos in a photo booth.

Child Life Specialist Jessica Claspill-Garcia, who usually helps kids cope with the stress of being hospitalized, described the event as “amazing.”

“I’ve seen these kids so sad, and so sick and uncomfortable. To see them all dressed up and so excited — this was the highlight of my year.”

Rylen Karchem with her friend Laura Feggeler.
Rylen Karchem with her friend Laura Feggeler

Claspill-Garcia was part of the homecoming planning team that included Piazza, Child Life Specialist Carla De Lemos; Pediatrics Manager Ruth Adedeji, RN; Assistant Physician in Chief Jorge Gutierrez, MD; and Erin Wade, co-owner of Homeroom.

Some 20 other Kaiser Permanente nurses, medical students, and interns volunteered at the event. A security guard and environmental services worker also donated their time.

“We hope it becomes an annual event,” said De Lemos, “We felt so good about being able to provide this for the teens.”

Destiny Willis said she’d like to thank the people who put on the dance. She loved the makeup session, the limousine ride — and feeling like a normal teen.

“I didn’t have to hide my sickness, because everyone there was sick,” she said. “We got to get out and have some fun!”




This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. This is one of the sweetest stories I’ve read in a long time! It absolutely warmed my heart to see the beautiful pictures of the teens and the volunteers who helped make this event so special. As the mother of 2 teenaged girls who experienced homecoming events in October, I can relate to this important milestone in the lives of the teens who are chronically ill. I’m sure they will cherish this event and remember it for the rest of their lives. Kudos to all of the wonderful caregivers and other volunteers who made this day possible for the teens!

  2. Homecoming Dance for Teen — great story! Sounds like Kaiser Permanente learned a lot about how to organize something like this. If a template is made showing the steps and planning and donations needed, that would be very nice to see. Perhaps that would work elsewhere as well.

  3. This was such a wonderful, wonderful thing to do. It is hard enough for these young people to be that young and then have an illness on top of that. To give them something that a lot of them have had to miss out on the normal rights of passage of being a teenager. This is what it is all about. And this showed that their emotional as well as their physical health was treated.

  4. Wow… what a reminder of the good and giving people we work with.

    Feeling “normal” is one thing. Feeling special is another. These young adults will never forget this evening. (A DJ? Mac and Cheese? A photo booth? Sounds like a great party!)

    Let’s all take a page out of this book. I’m grateful for this story, and for the staff, physicians, and volunteers who came together in service of our patients.

    We talk about treating our members as we would want our family members treated. I can’t think of a finer example.

  5. What a beautiful idea. I woulld love to orginize this wonderful event in the Sacramento/ North Valley region.

  6. Very touching story. It’s wonderful how Kaiser Permanente employees and volunteers cared enough to coordinate this very special event for these young patients who have missed out on so many activities due to their illnesses. I too hope this becomes an annual event not only in Oakland, but at other KP facilities as well.

  7. I LOVE this! This shows how someone has an idea, other people join in and give these kids an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives! Well done, everyone!

  8. One of the many reasons why I am proud to be a Kaiser Permanente employee. Thank you for sharing this story!

  9. This was such a nice story. What a great idea! I truly hope this becomes an annual tradition. They are more than deserving and wha ta rewarding thing to partake in!

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