Child Life Program helps McLaren comfort sick kids

Hearthgrove Donation

Anne Heier RN is a Child Life Specialist in the Pediatric Department of McLaren Northern, a position funded through the Kiwanis of Michigan Foundation.

Named the Herman H. Meyer Project, after a distinguished Kiwanian in 1977, the Child Life Program was first started here in Petoskey.

McLaren Northern Michigan is one of four hospitals in Michigan to receive funding through the Kiwanis of Michigan foundation.

The Child Life Program provides hospitalized children with the skills and tools they need to develop normally while in the hospital environment.

Heier oversees the developmentally appropriate play opportunities and comforts children, supports families, and fosters growth and social development, for the pediatric patient. This, in turn, decreases stress of the patient and family.

The McLaren Northern Michigan Pediatric Department has a fully equipped playroom including art supplies, developmental toys, video games, and movies.

Each of the semiprivate pediatric rooms has their own Wii, PlayStation, and XBOX 360, so that children limited to their room can feel at home and still have fun.

“The children work through fears and other challenges using many forms of expressive activities such as art projects, crafts, and games,” said Heier. “My goal is to find each child’s interest and incorporate it into their plan of care.”

The pediatric rooms at McLaren Northern Michigan are designed for children. “Having the walls and room decorated in fun colors and child-friendly themes creates an environment that feels more like home and aides in their recovery,” said Heier. “We are blessed to have the public support of the community and generous donors!”

Child-themed pillow cases are a huge hit with the McLaren Northern Michigan pediatric patients. “Local sewers help keep the cupboards stocked for us year round,” said Heier. “A wonderful group of women contacted me several years ago about making pillow cases for our pediatric patients. It was amazing to find out that these women were from all over the United States and they summer at the Hearthside Grove RV Resort!”

The Hearthside Grove women meet three days each summer to make pillowcases that they gift to the Pediatric Department at McLaren Northern Michigan.

This year, a total of 13 women volunteered their time and talent to make over 70 pillowcases.

From picking out fabric to ironing and sewing, there was plenty of work for anyone who desired to help. “We wanted to do something with a purpose while visiting northern Michigan each summer,” said Sharon Nelson, a 6 year Hearthside Grove tenant and year-round resident of Trinity, FL. “Knowing we can make a child smile during a hard time in their life is a great feeling.”

When a child arrives in the hospital room, a pillow is waiting with a specially selected pillowcase.

Each pediatric patient is told that this is his or her own pillowcase and that at the end of the visit it can be taken home. “Something like a unique pillowcase can immediately put a child who is nervous at ease,” stated Heier. “It is enjoyable to pick out the pillowcase for each patient and see the smile on their face when they find out they can take it home.”

After children and their families return home, many stay in contact with Heier.

She is always receiving emails and phone calls about how she positively impacted not only the child but parent’s experience at the hospital. “I love hearing how the former patients are using the pillowcases for trick-or-treating or as their doll’s sleeping bag,” said Heier. “It reminds you that simple acts of kindness and love make a huge impact in someone’s life.”

The Kiwanis of Michigan Foundation’s Child Life Program at McLaren Northern Michigan has been making a difference in the lives of children and families across northern Michigan since 1977.

“The region and McLaren Northern Michigan are fortunate to have such a fantastic program through Kiwanis as well as the many volunteers, including the women from Hearthside Grove,” stated Heier. “I love working with the children and I couldn’t do it without the generosity of all our volunteers and donors working together to make our unit a great success. I’m grateful for the opportunity each and every day.”

For information on services available at McLaren Northern Michigan, please call (800) 248-6777 or online at

Photo Caption: On August 26, 2015 a group of 6 Hearthside Grove residents delivered over 70 homemade pillowcases to the Pediatric Unit at McLaren Northern Michigan. Picture L to R: Gloria Everett, Jeanne McGrath, Sharon Nelson, Nancy Mitchell, Susan Weaver, Anne Heier, Carol Wood