Jen Koch, executive director and creator of Smiles with Style, began volunteering at Akron Children’s more than two years ago and turned something as simple as braiding patients’ hair into a full-scale non-profit organization.
“I came in and met with another Akron Children’s volunteer, Becky Gardner, who had started braiding girls’ hair,” Koch said. “I followed her around, and I just took it from there. It just kind of grew. In the process, I really started to love what I was doing and decided to start a non-profit.”
The organization’s goal is to put a smile on the face of every child suffering from the effects of illness and to create hope one smile at a time.
“All it takes is a little bit of your time,” says Koch.
The program is volunteer and donation-based. Whether it be lipstick and tiaras for the girls or stickers and capes for the boys, it gives both the opportunity to escape from reality and play dress up. The volunteers push dressed up carts throughout the hospital looking to brighten up the moods of Akron Children’s patients.
“We can spend as little as five minutes with the kids, and it really makes a difference,” Koch said. “We’ve gotten comments from parents saying ‘this is the best part of their day’ or ‘they really look forward to this.’ Their smiles are what makes it so special.”
Smiles with Style also had the chance to help with Prom to Remember, an annual event for pediatric cancer patients from Akron Children’s Hospital, Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic and their guests.
Koch said she believes the success of the organization is due in part to the four things they strive to do for every child at Akron Children’s:
- Create a diversion from reality for the children
- Improve self-esteem
- Give different choices
- Provide needed supplies, such as personal care items
Since its creation at Akron Children’s, the organization has expanded to other hospitals.
“We’re slowly expanding our footprint,” Koch said. “I’d love to eventually be in every children’s hospital in the country. That is our long term vision.”
For more information about how to become an Akron Children’s volunteer or help support Smiles with Style, visit http://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/become-a-volunteer/index.html