Project Sunshine In-Person Volunteer: Daniella

floating hospital 4Daniella Damti (pictured in the middle) during a Project Sunshine volunteering session.

Daniella Damti was at a happy hour at a bar when she noticed a woman in a bright yellow shirt. Moving closer, she saw the Project Sunshine logo and introduced herself to ask about it. The Project Sunshine volunteer was quick to rave about her experiences with the program and the very next day, Daniella was on the Project Sunshine website, learning more.

Now, more than six years since that happy hour, Daniella is the PS chapter leader at the Floating Hospital of NYC, and Project Sunshine volunteers continues to brighten her day: “I have never met kinder, nicer, and more patient people,” she says, “everyone just wants to help someone who is in need a little bit of happiness.”

The Floating Hospital is no longer on a ship but it is committed to the same mission it started with in 1866: “offering healthcare to those whose circumstances make it difficult to access affordable or no-cost health services.” The Floating Hospital runs a free shuttle to more than 250 shelters and domestic violence safehouses and focuses not just on patient medical needs but also on family wellness, providing a variety of services and programs. Daniella is responsible for a monthly Project Sunshine visit and says the Floating Hospital staff are always thrilled to see that group of yellow shirts show up to help out.

When asked about returning to in-person volunteering post-Covid, Daniella thinks for a minute and then shrugs: “Kids are kids,” she says, “the only difference is you have to wear a mask.” She smiles, remembering a particular resourceful boy who put a new spin on the old technique of sitting on cards and tried to stash some extra Uno cards in his mask, leading to a conversation about cheating and about disinfecting. “Covid, no covid; kids are kids,” Daniella says again, laughing now, “I love my monthly dose of just hanging out with them.”

One of Daniella’s favorite things about volunteering with Project Sunshine is there’s no particular experience or skill set necessary: a person just needs to show up, smile, and be ready to engage with the kids. “There’s no script to follow,” she points out, “you just listen to the kid and react to them—they just want someone to treat them with respect and pay attention to them.” She pauses, then adds, “And try to make sure they’re not getting glitter everywhere.”

Daniella works at Morgan Stanley, and she praises her company’s support of service—“Give Back” is one of their five Core Values. Daniella feels fortunate to be able to schedule her Project Sunshine volunteer hours during the workday but notes that PS has flexible volunteer opportunities, which is part of what attracted her to the organization in the first place.

Now that she wears a yellow shirt herself, Daniella is happy to spread the sunshine and recruit new people to the cause. Why? “Because our volunteers want to do what they’re doing,” she says, “they’re just smiling and having fun and making people happy.” Once a month, for a couple of hours, a group of people show up and hang out and have fun with kids; Daniella makes it sound so easy—maybe because it is.

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