Every kid deserves a childhood; every caregiver deserves a break.
In 1998, college student Joe Weilgus visited a friend in the hospital. Walking by the pediatric wing, he noticed so many young patients sitting alone in their rooms with nothing to do. Unable to forget what he saw, Joe returned to the hospital the following week dressed up as a clown determined to spread cheer.
Joe’s positive energy boosted the morale of scared patients and anxious caregivers. Through “clowning around” with the kids and keeping them company, he realized that every young patient could benefit from the same support and companionship. He recruited classmates to join him in his volunteer efforts to brighten the lives of local pediatric patients. Shortly after, other college campuses expressed interest in making a difference, with Joe’s co-workers later doing the same.
And Project Sunshine was born.
Officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 1999, Project Sunshine opened its first professional office in New York City in the early 2000s. US based programs continued to flourish during this time, and in 2006 Project Sunshine launched its first international program in Mombasa, Kenya.
Today, Project Sunshine operates programs in 5 countries, impacts over 150,000 pediatric patients and their families, and provides meaningful community service opportunities to over 18,000 volunteers. We work hard to raise awareness for the emotional needs of children facing medical challenges and their often forgotten caregivers.
It all started with one volunteer.
Project Sunshine was founded in 1998 by then-college student Joseph Weilgus. Joe visited a friend in the hospital and was overwhelmed by the number of young patients he witnessed looking lonely and bored in their rooms. All it took was a dream – and a clown costume – to realize that the hospital is an environment where medicine and smiles can meet. Meet Project Sunshine’s visionary and founder.
“Project Sunshine is helping us and a lot of others to create an environment that is family - and child - friendly, that helps people cope with what is a very stressful time in their lives. Project Sunshine is so important to the psychological well-being of patients and families.”
Dr. Ira ParnessChief of Pediatric Cardiology at Mt. Sinai Hospital
“I joined Project Sunshine in order to give back to my community, but what I didn’t expect was to receive so much in return. I gained leadership skills, a network of dedicated and compassionate volunteers, and the opportunity to meet incredible kids and families along the way.”
Nitasha S.Former Stony Brook University Chapter Leader
“Thank you Project Sunshine for this simple art project for my daughter. She's seven, and sitting through these long appointments can be a lot for her.”
LeniMother of a 7 year old cardiology patient
“My department is full of superheroes! We had a patient who was too afraid and in pain to talk. Once his mask was covered in jewels and his cape had a superhero sigil, he whispered that his superpower was 'being brave.'”
Teresa S.MA, CCLS, Child Life Program Coordinator
“As always the great support, enthusiasm, hard work and HEART that Project Sunshine brings to everything you do is so appreciated. Have you ever seen bigger smiles than were on those families’ faces yesterday?”