Wouldn’t it be great if we …” has been the beginning to countless programs in the 200-year history of the Sisters of Charity of New York, programs that have responded to needs both big and small. As our mission continues to grow through our sponsored works, we witness the very same creativity and passion—charism, as we call it— in the hearts of our partners in ministry. The Princess Project, the inspiration of Kylee McGrane and Margaret McAndrew, two College of Mount Saint Vincent (CMSV) students, began with that very question and the answer was purely magical.
Kylee and Margaret (Maggie) will complete their third year in the Seton Service and Leadership Program in May. Started by the Sisters of Charity in 2011, the program offers four-year full room and board scholarships to ten students who have an outstanding academic profile, demonstrate community service, and possess leadership skills. (See Vision, Autumn 2012, page 9). One of the main goals addressed by Sr. Mary Lou McGrath, the Sisters of Charity coordinator for the program, and the Office of Campus Ministry is to help students gain an understanding of the Vincentian-Setonian spirit of service and to help them embrace active leadership roles on and off campus.
Kylee and Maggie met in freshman year and became fast friends. Involved in parish service at an early age, Maggie participated in many service missions with her family, primarily serving the underprivileged and homeless communities. At CMSV she was a tutor as well as head of volunteers for Park Ledge, an after-school program for low income families, where she spent time with the children doing crafts and helping with homework. In high school, Kylee was active in several service projects. After transferring schools in her junior year because of bullying, she began advocating on an anti-bullying platform. In her freshman year at CMSV she also worked with the homeless communities, but her primary service project was an anti-bullying after-school program with a neighborhood Catholic elementary school.
After their sophomore year, when their service projects organically dissolved, they were searching for a new project to which they could devote their talents. While watching Frozen with her family during the 2014 winter break, Kylee suddenly thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could visit kids in the hospital dressed as princesses?” She shared the idea with Maggie, who enthusiastically agreed.
St. Vincent de Paul, who mastered the art of organization, would be proud of these two bright and determined young women. From the very beginning, their approach was well thought out and organized. They devised a plan to raise funds for the purchase of authentic, theme-park-quality costumes: they initiated a Go Fund Me page where family and friends could contribute to their cause, they held bake sales, and they sold tee shirts. Maggie’s mother, a member of the board at Our Lady of Victory in West Haven, CT, recognized the potential in the program and encouraged Kylee and Maggie to create an executive board. Professor Jonathan Rosenberg, instructor of business and economics at CMSV, oversees this student service club and has been a valuable source for the project.
With the help of family, friends, supporters, and top quality costumes, the two students were transformed into Elsa (Kylee) and Anna (Maggie), princesses from the animated feature Frozen. After researching and approaching several children’s hospitals in the area, they were welcomed by Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park (Long Island), NY, to make their debut in April 2014. The hospital provided an extensive packet of materials giving guidelines and expectations for the visit. Cohen, as well as all other hospitals, briefs volunteers every time they visit.
When the day came to walk into a hospital in their princess costumes, Kylee and Maggie had typical jitters. Maggie recalls, “I was so nervous. I had the monumental task of portraying this character that children love so much. I wanted to give them the very best impression of her, so that the children would feel like they were actually meeting a character from the movie. Once we got to the hospital we were met by a little girl belting out a song from Frozen. Kylee and I were totally enamored and my nervousness washed away. I felt the love coming from her and realized this is not about me, not about my comfort level, but about the kids. It’s always about the kids.”
Kylee adds, “I was extremely nervous the first day. I still get nervous before every visit. The things that we see can be really difficult to process. Knowing that we are well prepared logistically calms me down. We don’t go into the hospitals to create a spectacle. We go to make new best friends and when you really think about it, there’s nothing scary about sitting on the floor having a tea party with a four-year-old. There’s no reason to be nervous when all a child wants is to hear you sing their favorite song. And there’s nothing better than getting tons of hugs from such amazing kids.”
Since that first visit two years ago, 15 “princesses” have signed on to the project and an additional 13 volunteers contribute in various capacities, such as fund raising. New princesses must raise $300 to purchase their own costumes. Utilizing the materials collected from the hospitals, Kylee and Maggie train all new princesses for one semester and require them to accompany an experienced princess on visits before donning their own costumes. In addition to the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, the Princess Project has visited more than a dozen hospitals and schools in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas. They also attend private parties for children with medical conditions.
Kylee and Maggie have used the Princess Project to incorporate all of the service work they have done. In Spring 2016 they held a toiletry drive (stressing feminine products) for distribution on a Midnight Run (the Campus Ministry project serving New York City homeless). They recently initiated a “Wear Your Crown” seminar for young women in which they stress the importance of supporting other women and finding their passion through service work. With a presence on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and their own website, the Princess Project has been well documented. Thirty colleges have reached out to Kylee and Maggie to start their own Princess Projects.
In an effort to grow the program, Kylee and Maggie are creating a not-for-profit organization and will officially change the name to Moment of Magic Foundation. They are also planning to add a super-hero program next year. All donations and funds collected by the program are used to defray any costs incurred. A visit to their website (theprincessprojectny.org) will inform and enchant at the same time.
In April, Kylee and Maggie stopped by the Sisters of Charity center and talked with Sr. Jane Iannucelli about their project. Sister Jane, who has worked with children in a burn unit as well as children with AIDS, was not only impressed by the entrepreneurship and insight shown by these young women, she was truly touched by their spirit and their sense of mission: “When you bring joy to the heart of a sick child, you also bring healing. Kylee and Maggie are unbelievable advocates for children’s health.”
The College of Mount Saint Vincent is understandably proud of Kylee and Maggie and of the Princess Project, and the Sisters of Charity take special pride in having played a role in their development as servant leaders on and off campus.
#KyleeisVincent and #Maggie is Vincent
Source: Vision, a publication of the Sisters of Charity of New York. To download the entire edition, please click the image below.