By Jenny Earl
Dancer Finds Calling Via Dance Marathon Flyer
While attending a Dance Marathon meeting Hannah Downing was given a flyer that would change her life forever.
Entering the University of Iowa as a pre-med major with the goal of being a pediatrician, Downing always knew she loved kids. But after starting her classes and job shadowing professionals, she felt something wasn’t quite right.
It wasn’t until she was handed a flyer for Camp Heart Connection, a week long summer camp program operated by the Children’s Cancer Connection for children that have, or have had cancer, that she found what she had been missing – the perfect major.
After working as a camp counselor for three years in a row, Downing dropped her major and switched over to what will soon be her permanent career – a Child Life Specialist.
“I started to explore my career options and just thinking about the normalcy we create at camp for these kiddos that have been through things that no child or adult, for that matter, should ever have to experience opened my eyes,” said Downing, a current UI senior. “I realized what a difference I could make in these children’s lives and all kids alike.”
Downing, a current morale captain, sees Dance Marathon intermingle with Child Life at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics almost every day.
“I’ve definitely been touched by children and families who have spoke at Dance Marathon or attended Dance Marathon events and it’s truly inspiring to see them in that light, but then to also be on my practicum rotation up at the hospital and see the same kiddo getting a procedure or chemotherapy is also such a wonderful experience,” she said. “I get to tie the two together and see how thankful these families really are for our services and to physically see why I donate to such a great cause.”
Downing said working as a Dance Marathon helps give her a little break from her job to play more with the children.
” It has been a challenge to separate Dance Marathon with Child Life, because when I’m a Dance Marathon volunteer in the hospital, all I want to do is play with the kids, but with Child Life I’m more on the observational side and medical team,” Downing explained. “The kids definitely know what Child Life is, as they’ve had the services our profession provides for most of their lives, so it is very nice that they know we aren’t going to poke them with needles or make them go down to surgery.”
Using family speakers as motivation to go to work and be a part of Dance Marathon’s leadership team, one the family’s quotes sticks out in the back of Downing’s mind.
“When God wants to do something big, he starts with something very small. When he wants to do something miraculous, he starts with the impossible.”
“These cancer diagnosis are often see as death sentences or failures, but they’re not the impossibles,” said Downing. “We will beat cancer someday and until then, we will keep working on the small things to keep working towards our miracle.”
After being a dancer, Morale Captain Assistant, Morale Captain, Family Programming Co-Chair, and now the Family Relations Director, Jamie Lick said Dance Marathon has shaped his life in more than one way.
It all started with family relations.
Getting to work with different families gave Lick the opportunity to see what exactly he was working toward.
“It let me see exactly who we benefit and gave me the opportunity to form close bonds with many families,” said Lick, a current senior. “I knew that I wanted to get even further involved so I could be an advocate for these families and do everything I could to serve them.”
And after volunteering at the hospital through Dance Marathon, Lick learned what every day life for a family in a hospital is like. Giving him the desire to work with these types of families and children, Lick looked into Child Life.
“I always had the desire to work with children, in a hospital setting, but never really knew what I could do that didn’t involve becoming a doctor or nurse,” he said. “Neither of those were an option for me as I am not big on science. I kept hearing about Child Life Specialists and became intrigued in the profession.”
The University of Iowa, one of the few schools in the country with a specific undergraduate program for Child Life, was only in its second year when Lick set up a meeting with Emily Mozena, a former Child Life Specialist at the hospital and current head of the Child Life Program, to learn more.
After an hour-long meeting, Lick decided the Child Life major was right for him.
As a competitive program, only accepting 10 people a year, Lick was accepted his senior year.
Joining Dance Marathon was a no-brainer for Lick, who was approached by a morale captain his freshman year.
“Hearing it was for pediatric cancer was an easy selling point for me, because my best friend was battling cancer at that time,” said Lick.
Eventually that first year grew into five more and what Lick now describes as his “life at Iowa.”
“Not to sound dramatic, but Dance Marathon has shaped my life and has done so much more for me than I could ever do for it. It is the sole reason that I wanted to become involved in Child Life and the reason that I even know about it in the first place,” said Lick.
Lick said Dance Marathon works closely with Child Life at the hospital to plan hospital parties, playtimes, and Dance Marathon diners.
“Dance Marathon and my major go hand in hand,” said Lick. “I see the same families when I am a Child Life Assistant, Practicum Student, and Dance Marathon volunteer. The Dance Marathon presence in the hospital is a great one and I think their relationship with Child Life is amazing.”
Discovering Dance Marathon Families’ ‘Angels’
At Lisa Kimball’s first ‘Big Event’ as a dancer, she listened intently as families got up on stage and gave their stories.
One theme that seemed to continue throughout their speeches were Child Life Specialists, which Kimball remembered as being described as “angels.”
After hearing about these “angels,” but unaware of what these professionals did,
Kimball decided to do a little research.
Shortly after, Kimball jumped into volunteering at the hospital and discovered her future career.
“I found out that Iowa had a program just for Child Life and I guess you could say that the rest is history,” said Kimball.
Kimball agreed that Dance Marathon and Child Life go hand in hand.
“A Child Life Specialist primarily works in a hospital setting and uses play, patient education and guidance as ways to help children and families cope with the stress of illness and hospitalization,” she said. “There are many oncology patients in the hospital that are part of Dance Marathon and the Child Life Specialists work with them daily to help achieve goals and create a normalcy within the hospital. The Child Life staff can see first hand how much Dance Marathon positively affects the families.”
Four years after dancing her heart out, Kimball said she’ll leave the University of Iowa with great Dance Marathon memories.
One of them include watching the “graduation” ceremony, a ceremony used to honor former cancer patients and their families who have finished their treatments for five years or more.”
Kimball said after seeing the ceremony, she is given hope for all children and will dance her heart out to help find a cure so more children can graduate.
“Dance Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart because it guided me into my dream career,” exclaimed Kimball.
Morale Captain Finds her “Nitch”
Joining Dance Marathon to “meet people,” Amy Loughran definitely met the right ones.
After mingling with members of Dance Marathon each year, Loughran was also led to the path of a Child Life Specialist.
“I finally felt like I found my nitch,” she said.
Loughran was a dancer her first year, a Morale Captain Assistant her second year, a Morale Captain my third year, and is the current Community Relations Chair under Development.
After being accepted into the program, Loughran is now with many of the people who inspired her to choose the path she did.
“I have found some of my best friends, gained more responsibility, changed lives, and it has also changed mine,” said Loughran, describing how Dance Marathon has intermixed with Child Life.
Currently a senior and practicum student at the hospital, Loughran said she hears quite a bit about Dance Marathon.
“It makes me proud be such a big part of this organization. We work with many Dance Marathon families and they can’t thank each and every one of us enough for what we do,” she said.
Child Life Students Take a Trip
Three of these UI dancers, Kimball, Lick, and Loughran took a trip to Florida to ‘Give Kids The World’, a non-profit organization that fulfills the wishes of all children with life threatening illnesses and their families from around the world to experience a memorable, cost-free visit to the Central Florida attractions, and to enjoy the magic of Give Kids The World Village. The three Child Life students volunteered at the Village as an alternative spring break trip last March. The Give Kids The World Village consists of over 100 villas where families can stay during their time in Florida.