Kylee McGrane and Margaret McAndrew were just two college roommates back in 2014 when they started dressing up in costumes and visiting hospitals in hopes to make children with serious illnesses just a bit happier that day. Fast forward to 2019, and McGrane is now the Executive Director of A Moment of Magic, a national nonprofit organization with over 500 college student volunteers.
Beyond hospital bedside visits, A Moment of Magic now connects with children through video calls, large events, sing-a-longs, and more. They've even created original characters for volunteers to dress up as based on survey research, which asked kids who they would want to be visited by.
We had the honor of speaking with McGrane to hear all about the organization and learn ways to get involved, even if you're not a college student.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Floor8: What was the inspiration behind starting A Moment of Magic?
McGrane: We started A Moment of Magic in 2015, and the intention was to do service work providing hands-on opportunities with children battling serious illnesses. We never really imagined that it would become a national nonprofit organization to be honest—it was an organic thing where we wanted to give back to our community and I fell in love with it and it became everything I talked about. I knew that this was the reason why I was put here on this Earth, this was what I was meant to do, and I had to share it with as many people as possible.
Floor8: Right away was this something you knew you wanted to pursue as a career?
McGrane: Not necessarily. I always wanted to do something to give back to the community and something that would inspire other people. I didn’t know I wanted to work with children with serious illnesses or in the nonprofit sphere, but when I first went to school I wanted to be an author of children’s books, so there was always something there. Going on that first visit really changed the trajectory of my life.
Floor8: What’s the one thing you think you’ve been most proud of in this journey, whether it be a big achievement or just one special moment?
McGrane: There are so many moments along the way. I think being able to experience the interaction with a child is one thing, but when people put it into perspective and tell me how many volunteers we have and how many visits we were able to provide, that is really overwhelming in the best way—just knowing all it takes is a drop in the bucket to make a change for someone else. It was just one decision to put on a dress and visit a hospital, but it completely transformed the lives of so many people.
Floor8: What’s one goal going into 2020 that you’re most excited about?
McGrane: There are so many different things. One is continuing to grow in every sense of the word, whether that’s forming new relationships with hospitals or adding more chapters, and getting to visit more kids. We also have a couple really exciting secret collaborations up our sleeves. We’re looking to serve children in the most ways possible, not just in the hospital but also trying to make the entire experience of getting diagnosed with a serious illness a little less scary.
Floor8: I really love the Character Hotline Call initiative, where children can do video calls with the volunteers. Can you explain how that idea came about?
McGrane: We came up with this idea because there were so many times where a child was going through a bone marrow transplant where they had to be in isolation, or maybe they were in chemotherapy and they were radioactive, which is a really scary experience for a child. We heard from parents about their limited physical touch during that time—that really affects a child. So we set up these video chat calls where parents and hospitals can arrange times in which patients can talk to their favorite characters. We call them, and we know their names, and we read them books, and we do all these different things to focus on treating them like a child and making them feel extra special.
Floor8: I also think it’s so awesome that you’ve created original characters based on what the kids want to see. How did you come up with the final characters, and were any of the survey results surprising?
McGrane: It was something that was really amazing. It’s one of the things about A Moment of Magic that makes me the most proud. We were looking at the characters that are in the traditional canon and then we were looking around at our volunteers, and it was just this moment where we realized our volunteers weren’t all being represented, and this was something we had the opportunity to change. So we reached out to our friends and kids at the hospitals and asked them to describe their ideal character. What was amazing is that these kids put things on their priority list like, “she likes cotton candy,” “she’s an artist,” “she volunteers at the hospital,” and things like their race and weight weren’t mentioned at all. Us adults will maybe define people with appearance as the first couple of categories, and this wasn’t even on the forefront of these kids’ imaginations. And I think that is really amazing. This is a way we can represent all of our volunteers in the way kids genuinely want to see. It’s really, really cool.
Floor8: Do many men volunteer?
McGrane: Yes, and we are so grateful for them. When we first started, I was at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, which was a predominantly female school, so we had a really hard time to get men interested. But as we’re now really spread out across the country, we’ve tapped into some of the bigger schools, like Ohio State and the University of Arizona. We’ve been getting so much interest from the boys and it’s been amazing. The boy patients love all the princesses, but to see a superhero come into your hospital, rolling around on your floor, it’s just really cool. It’s a really amazing experience.
Floor8: How would a college interested in A Moment of Magic approach you and what would the process be to get involved?
McGrane: It’s actually pretty easy to get in touch with us and start a chapter. The best thing to do is go to our website and there’s information there on how to apply. Falyn [Stein] is our new coordinator, and she was one of our first ever princesses who now works as a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse. Once you submit an application we interview you, we decide if you’re a good fit, and then we actually fly you out to New York City for training for a whole week in the summer. It’s like princess training camp.
Floor8: Is there a goal to expand past college students and involve people of all ages in volunteer work?
McGrane: Our first priority is to provide this opportunity to college students, as it fits perfectly with other college student programs up there. So we’ll stick there for the character volunteers, but we actually do have what we call Magic Maker Chapters and Fairy God Sponsor Chapters. These are for people in the community who might be in high school or graduated and are in the workforce who want to help A Moment of Magic directly in their community. There are tons of different ways they are able to activate volunteer work in their area, so it’s really incredible to see it grow just beyond our original plan. And if people do want to get involved, they can reach out to use on our website. We’re really passionate about giving people opportunities that they feel strongly about. So for example, maybe it isn’t super comfortable for you to go into a hospital—maybe you’re really good at sewing. We actually take some of our old costumes and make them into costumes for kids or blankets to give to the kids in the hospitals. So there’s always ways for people to get involved.
The one big thing to stress is that there really are opportunities for everyone to get involved, and if there’s an idea you have that you see on our website, pitch it to us, because we’d love to get as many people involved in the magic as possible.
For more information on A Moment of Magic and to get involved, visit their website here.