project sunshine

Spreading joy was the goal in mind when Emily Ye, a fourth-year studying biology, and Sophie Korenek, a fourth-year studying biochemistry, decided to form Project Sunshine at NC State. 

“We're a nonprofit organization that aims to increase the psychosocial and developmental needs of pediatric patients by offering different opportunities for play and engagement,” Ye said.

Two years ago, Korenek and Ye found Project Sunshine online and got in touch with the organization in the interest of starting a chapter at NC State. The club slowly started to gain its footing with Korenek and Ye at the helm, all the while working with its partner hospital, WakeMed Children's Hospital. 

According to Korenek, many volunteering opportunities for pre-med or pre-health students were unavailable due to the pandemic. Although those involved thought they’d be working in person by now, volunteers are still doing their best to have an impact on patients. 

“Right now we're offering things called tele-play that allow volunteers to directly interact with patients through Zoom or any other online platform,” Ye said. “Through these events, they're able to play games to help stimulate their social and cognitive needs.” 

The volunteers involved with Project Sunshine at NC State are a vital part of the organization. The 30-50 people that volunteer every semester are directly involved with pediatric patients and help with other projects the organization plans. 

“One of the biggest things that we've achieved this school year is something called sending sunshine,” Ye said. “Volunteers will come together and assemble these bags filled with toys, games and coloring material for patients, and then we will drop them off and donate them to our partner hospital.”

There’s more to Project Sunshine’s mission. Alongside 200 gift bags and handmade cards for patients, the club is creating an A-Z coloring book for children. 

“We got volunteers to come in and draw each [letter], and we took a bunch of submissions,” Korenek said. “Right now, we're working on converting that to a digital format so that we can then print it out.”

These less-than-personal activities are not what Ye, Korenek and the rest of the executive board originally planned for their club, but volunteers are hopeful that in the future, they will be able to return to their original goal.

“Maybe going into the fall semester COVID will not be so crazy and we will actually get to do one of the original goals of Project Sunshine which is to actually go and visit the patients in the hospital and actually interact with them in person,” Korenek said. 

For now, the club will continue to do what they can to encourage the pediatric patients they set out to help.

“It makes me feel good to know that we're able to provide something,” Korenek said. 

Shining light to brighten up the lives of pediatric patients has been a mission of Project Sunshine since day one. Although it’s been difficult to act out the original goal of the club, there’s no doubt that the volunteers at NC State have made an impact on the pediatric patients they’re involved with.