Imagine being a sick child in the hospital with nothing to do. Your friends are out having fun, but you are confined to your bed feeling lonely and bored.
Now imagine being able to pick from fun classes, with the opportunity to learn subjects ranging from sign language to playing the ukulele. Simcha University aims to make an extended hospital stay constructive and useful by offering an array of extracurricular classes taught by professionals in their respective fields, which our clients can elect to learn over the duration of their inpatient stay.
Most Chai Lifeline volunteers come in during their free time after finishing their school day, sometimes on the weekend, but Simcha University is a volunteer opportunity geared toward adults. “Professors” at Simcha University find time in their busy workday to teach hospitalized children. With Simcha University, anyone from a 20-something to a senior citizen can truly make a difference by committing just a little of their free time to give a child the gift of learning.
In a medical essay on the psychological, emotional, and physical experiences of hospitalized children, clinical psychologist Ami Rokach of York University in Toronto, Canada, stresses that a hospitalized child’s physical activity level is inherently limited, curtailing their means of making sense of the world around. As can be seen in any pediatric hospital, hospitalized children tend to engage in less play activity, and when they do engage, their play is characterized by repetitive, solitary themes. This is unfortunate, and even damaging, since play is an important coping mechanism for children in a stressful environment such as a hospital.
With its array of engaging courses, Simcha University addresses these needs by providing instructional and recreational activities that allow the pediatric patient to feel productive during an unproductive time. The program already has 68 professors registered in Maryland and the Greater Washington metropolitan area, servicing multiple pediatric hospitals in our extended neighborhood.
Uri Arnson, a premier local wedding photographer based in Baltimore, registered as a Simcha University Professor nearly a year ago. He has since been paired with half-a-dozen hospital-bound pediatric patients in the region.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Arnson. “Photography is something I’m passionate about. To be able to share that passion? To teach that passion? That’s a special opportunity. When I see that child holding that camera... That’s just as real as it gets.”
Yitzi Teichman, a brain tumor survivor who spent time in a local hospital in Washington, D.C., echoes these sentiments as well. Teichman was isolated in a hospital for eight weeks of intense proton beam therapy and benefited from not one but two courses at Simcha University. He shared how Simcha University uplifted him in a time of need.
“You have no idea. You have absolutely no idea,” said Teichman. “Any organization can send a visitor. Chai Lifeline sent me an education. I wasn’t bored and unproductive; I was growing and gaining.”
“The reality is, anyone could have sent me someone to teach me a skill,” he said. “Chai Lifeline sent me a Simcha University professor at the same time that my siblings were going to monthly programming and events, and at the same time my parents were being invited to family retreats.”
“Simcha University was a success for me because it is a part of Chai Lifeline.”
By Yonathan Melamed