EAST ROCKAWAY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Not many charities allow kids to be part of the volunteer staff.
But for one non-profit on Long Island the spirit of the organization is based on kids helping kids. They’re the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer.
The room is about to be set in motion. A room full of toys would get any kid excited, but these youngsters are here for charity.
Little St. Nick Foundation gives toys to children in hospitals. Every month it creates 300 gift bags.
“When a child first gets to a hospital they’re scared. They don’t know what’s wrong with them. They’re isolated,” foundation founder Ray Mohler Jr. said. “Now these kids in the Emergency Department, they walk in, they check in right away and they get a gift bag, and it just changes their whole mood, and it really just changes the whole hospital experience for the patient.”
The goal is to help kids cope with their pain and fears. Even though the name is Little St. Nick, it’s not just for Christmas.
“Hospitals are bombarded with donations during the holiday season. Come springtime or summertime they have no one wanting to give, Mohler said.
It’s a charity for kids organized by kids. Mohler acts as a year-round Santa Claus. It’s only fitting. He was born on Christmas Eve.
The program is something he created after his own hospital stay when he was 4 years old.
“While I was there I was scared. I was isolated,” Mohler said. “I decided to give back my birthday and Christmas gifts to the hospital I was at, so that at least some of those kids in the hospital don’t have to have the same experience I did.”
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That was just the beginning. Year after year he continued to give back. His Little St. Nick Foundation has now donated more than half a million toys.
“It’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown as a person over the years from these experiences and how our kid volunteers are growing through their experiences,” Mohler said.
Fifteen years later, the foundation has grown nationally, with chapters in St. Louis, Tampa and in East Rockaway — and most of the volunteers are kids.
“It’s kind of cool for us to have this experience because a lot of other organizations turn away younger kids and say ‘Oh you’re not old enough to volunteer,'” Mohler said. “It’s nice to give these kids the tools to learn values and they want to do it.”
The toys are meant to keep the kids’ minds off the illness, but the added bonus is the impact on the volunteers.
“All of these kids volunteering for us and making ‘get well’ cards and making gift bags … we’re putting life into perspective for them and to see how lucky they are, and to know that it can always be worse,” Mohler said.
When asked if he thinks the younger kids can gain that perspective, Mohler said, “Yeah, I think every child who comes here, whether it’s the first time or 20th time, they either come here not having that perspective or leave here with that perspective and new gratitude for life. It’s something I love to see, the whole kids inspiring kids movement that we’re creating right now.
“We’re not only inspiring kids, but teaching them critical values at a young age. We’re forming the future leaders of the world, really,” he added.
CBS2’s Overmyer asked what kind of leaders does Mohler think he’s producing, to which he responded, “When they come here they’re untapping that potential with service to others.”
Mohler is now in college, but he’s not only helped relieve the fear and improve the lives of thousands of hospitalized children, he is also serving as a beacon for good.
“For a couple hours, really forget about all of their pain and suffering. And that’s the real goal, to take their mind off of what they’re going through. That’s really the goal — to leave them a long-lasting memory and smile,” Mohler said.
Mohler said the volunteers resist the urge to play with the toys while they’re packing them up because they know if they break it, a hospitalized child will never get it.
Mohler said if funding comes in he will try to open more locations around the area. To find out more about the Little St. Nick Foundation, please click here.