Reel Angels brings theater movie experience to Children’s Hospital patients
Kaylee Smith (center), 6, poses for a picture with the visiting actors on Unit 2800, where they signed autographs and met with patients.
For many children, going to the movies is a simple thing. But for youngsters in hospital cancer wards, it is a pleasure they rarely have a chance to enjoy. The threat of infection makes going to a movie theater impossible.
But a young woman has found a way to bring a bit of Hollywood to hospitals. Jessica Angel got the idea after volunteering in the oncology ward at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. Ms. Angel now runs the Reel Angels charity, which brings hospital screenings of theater movies to sick children.
Timmy Collins was battling leukemia when Ms. Angel met him in 2003. The 5-year-old talked nonstop about his dream to see “Spiderman 2.” But before the film’s release, he died.
“I met Timmy the first or second time I volunteered at LLUCH, and he just had the most amazing spirit,” says Ms. Angel. “He was so smart and he was always taking care of everyone else, so he stood out to me from the very beginning. There was one baby in particular that I spent a lot of time with, and she just loved Timmy! Her face would light up every time she saw him.
“One day, Timmy came into the playroom completely decked out in Spiderman attire from his pajamas to the web slinger he wore on his hand. So, we started talking about the movie and I asked him if he was excited about seeing the second one (which was being released very soon). He proceeded to explain to me that he probably wouldn’t be able to see it until it was released on video because even when they get to go home for a short period of time, they can’t go to public places where they are at risk for getting sick. I guess I was never aware of this until my conversation with him.
“Over the next couple of weeks, Timmy’s health began to deteriorate very quickly. The last time I saw him, I just remember him being in so much pain and wishing I was able to give him a chance to escape. I knew that him being able to watch his favorite superhero might have alleviated some of the discomfort, but didn’t think there was anything I could do about i
Jessica Angel (left), former volunteer at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital and founder of Reel Angels, introduces five of the children actors from the Paramount movie “Yours, Mine & Ours.”
t. Timmy passed away shortly after. He didn’t make it to the release of ‘Spiderman 2’ on DVD.
“I was driving to work one day, and I just felt this overwhelming urge to take action to do something to bring movies, while they were still in theatres, to these hospital-bound kids. The name came to me pretty much right away, and I started talking to family, friends, and co-workers, who helped guide and support me through the whole process. And here we are today!”
So she launched “Reel Angels,” and brings not only movies to hospitals but snacks and, sometimes, the movie stars, too.
On January 19, through the kind generosity of Paramount Pictures, Reel Angels screened “Yours, Mine & Ours” for a “sold out” crowd of young moviegoers at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, the premiere event for Ms. Angel’s organization at Children’s Hospital. The children were joined by very special guests, the film’s Ty Panitz, along with Jaelin, Brecken, Bridger, and McKenna Palmer, who signed autographs for everyone and passed out posters and bracelets. The child life staff, with the help of Kelly Jackson, senior marketing specialist, Children’s Hospital, and the marketing department, created an incredible atmosphere, with special Hollywood decorations, popcorn, and even a red carpet.
“Being able to finally do a screening at Loma Linda was so important to me!” says Ms. Angel. “Loma Linda was the first hospital that I actually approached with wanting to bring the program to, and everyone was so supportive from the very beginning. Not only was it a blessing to be back where it all started, but Timmy’s parents were able to be there as well, and that just meant the world to me! It was so special to see them again, to have them share about their son, and to be able to witness what he inspired. There was a comfort in doing this event, because there were familiar faces and I knew my way around. I am so grateful to Loma Linda for all of their help and support and for making this such an amazing experience, not only for the kids but for myself as well. I hope to be able to continue holding events here regularly. It’s the home of Reel Angels.”
Many young cancer patients are hospitalized for months at a time. Ms. Angel says her goal is to bring them smiles and the magic of the movies. Reel Angels has only been in business for a little more than a year but is already expanding its screenings to hospitals all over the country.
Reel Angels’ mission is to benefit hospital-bound children by bringing them first-run family films in order to create a magical theatrical experience. By screening movies for these children, the group helps them escape their surroundings. Even if just for a couple of hours, the kids are given a chance to leave some of their pain behind and smile at the stories and pictures before them. For more information about Reel Angels, please visit their website, located at <www.reelangels.org>.
By Preston Clarke Smith