Interview with Kylee McGrane, A Moment of Magic Founder and Executive Director
A Moment of Magic is the original 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that allows college-age students to volunteer at children’s hospitals and social service institutions to provide creative programming. We operate on the mission of ‘restoring the magic of believing at a time when a child needs to just be a kid, and reminding them to be brave, strong, and fearless.
When was A Moment of Magic founded and what inspired you to start the magic? You founded A Moment of Magic with Maggie McAndrew while college students, quite an endeavor during a busy time. How did you manage it all?
My original career aspirations were not clear when I entered college. I knew that I wanted to be creative and genuinely enjoy going to work every day. I knew that I wanted to help other people and try to make the world a better place. I wanted a job that would let me express my creativity and vast interests (working with children, writing, photography, management, doing something that ‘matters’, etc.), but I still did not know exactly what I wanted to do.
When I was home after Christmas break in December 2014, I was watching Frozen with my family and really fell in love with the story line. I realized that I could potentially even look like Elsa too. I’ve always been really inspired by Taylor Swift and her work with pediatric cancer and suddenly everything just clicked like a culmination of all the things I loved in one. I texted one of my friends about joining me and she immediately agreed and really helped us get off the ground by setting up a Gofundme page for us. We went on our first hospital visit in May 2015, expanded to include more volunteers at our college, and became an official nonprofit organization in March 2016.
A Moment of Magic was born out of all the things I love the most: service, children, female empowerment, and sparkles (and yes, it includes all of those varying interests I mentioned before). I began contacting hospitals and scheduling visits in between part time jobs, swim team practices, and a full academic course-load. For the first six months, A Moment of Magic was run out of my car. I pounded the pavement to purchase costumes and gifts for the children. I remember our first visit we went in awful, tacky costumes and gave out stickers to the kids because that’s the best we could do.
Logistically, yes, it was very hard to get started. As a college student I filed our 501(c)(3) paperwork in my dorm room googling each question and filling them in. I work day in and day out to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to continue to bring the magic to these children. I am definitely still working and learning. We grew pretty quickly, but I think being in the moment (almost) every moment has really helped me. I couldn’t get too caught up in the what-if’s. I had to keep looking at decisions strategically and with our mission in mind.
I ran from classes to contact hospitals and organizations. I went to meetings with professors to ask for advice. Somewhere along the way, I realized that asking people to donate was a way of collecting financial backing, creating a logo is one of the first steps of creating a brand, and sharing photos of us in gowns sitting on the floor hugging our new fighting friends was marketing.
Unintentionally, in my sophomore year of college, I created a business — one that I am so privileged to lead. Looking back three years later, I just think about all of the experiences we have been so privileged to have and all the magic we have yet to create.
Why was pediatric cancer your initial focus?
We exist because things such as pediatric cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other debilitating illnesses exist. It breaks my heart that there are children that have to battle terrible illnesses and that they don’t get to experience childhood the way that other children do. It truly breaks my heart knowing that there are children going through something no one ever should. Something that makes me extremely proud of our volunteers is that they actively try to learn more about the world of pediatric cancer in and out of costume. They learn the reality of funding and they’ve seen the statistics first hand. Because of this they began getting involved in rallies, writing to their local representatives, and looking for new opportunities to help these families. Knowing that there are so many kids that we have to reach is a looming thought. That’s why our volunteers passionately advocate for each other to operate on a ‘never-say-no’ policy. If you can be somewhere to provide some moments of love and light to these kids, you should be there. There have been times that we have visited terminally ill children who passed weeks later, hours later, or while we were there. Time moves fast in the world of pediatric cancer, and things can change by the minute, and until pediatric cancer is eradicated we can never overcome these fears. The more time we can spend focused on the child, the more we grow, and the more ability we have, to provide our services, the more moments of simple magic we can create.
Do you remember your first visit?
When I think about our first visit, it oddly seems like years ago but it also feels like yesterday. It was 2015 at Cohen’s Children’s Hospital in Long Island, a 202-bed hospital. I remember being so nervous and getting into costumes that were ill-fitting, and definitely not up to our standard now. But I remember after leaving the hospital, my experience was all I talked about. Volunteering in this way was all I wanted to do and I wanted to share this experience with others so we could reach more kids. What is incredible about this visit 3 years ago is that we operated on this very simple mission, and it is the crux of every single visit and every single decision to this day.
Can you tell us about your growth and expansion?
One of our largest goals for A Moment of Magic was to have as many college student volunteers as possible in order to service as many children as possible. In 2015, one chapter was adopted at the College of Mount Saint Vincent. By May 2017, A Moment of Magic adopted 8 additional chapters. In 2018, we grew to 16 chapters across the country. We hope to continuously expand our reach across the country and will be launching new chapter applications in September on our website, http://amomentofmagic.org.
How many states are you in now and how do families find you?
We are so excited that we finally have chapters across the country which has helped us reach so many more children. Our current chapters include University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin, Mercer University, Coastal Carolina University, Fordham University, College of Mount Saint Vincent, Ohio State University, Stony Brook University, West Virginia University, Gustavus College, Western Michigan University, University of Portland, Gonzaga University, Temple University, University of Cincinnati, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A Moment of Magic has worked with children in 27 states and three countries and counting! This number will continue to increase as our volunteer and chapter numbers increase! We have so many different outlets to connect with families. Most traditionally, we partner with hospitals all over the country to provide in-hospital visits, but we also partner with other amazing nonprofit organizations to team up to provide our services. We also fill individual requests for families! You can request a visit here: www.amomentofmagic.org/recommend-a-child
What is the mission of A Moment of Magic?
You have recently broadened your reach via technology which has given A Moment of Magic the ability to reach children who are isolated because of their illness/treatment. Can you tell us more about this?
Last month, we launched a brand-new, never-before-done initiative! We will now be offering several 30-minute private Skype call times with some of our characters. After seeing the amazing impact one on one interaction with our characters and a child can create, we decided to make our characters even more accessible. This is perfect for children who are in isolation, need a bit of cheering up, or just adore the characters we have listed. Just by forwarding an email out to someone who might need some magic, you can change an entire day for a child in need. So many parents, nonprofits, and child life specialists gave us amazing feedback on this new initiative and we are so honored to provide this service these amazing kiddos!
If you have a child that might be interested, the steps are very simple. Just click this link and book a date and time that works for you (all times are in EST), include your contact email, and we would reserve that time just for you (all dates and times are first come first serve). From there, we would work with whatever technology capabilities you have available (we have access to Facebook messenger, Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts). Then we would call on that designated day and time and set up a one on one interaction for that specific child!
You have touched so many lives, do you know how many visits A Moment of Magic is up to?
We have just passed the 15,000 threshold for the number of children we have met and we are so honored to be able to be a part of those 15,000 moments of magic.
What is in the future for you and for A Moment of Magic? Where do you see it all going?
With continued hard work, I continue to see our organization growing. In five years, we plan to reach 40 chapters nationally and 1 chapter internationally. We hope to continue to expand our creative experiences to provide children and their families and are so excited for new initiatives being launched within the next year. However, most importantly, we want to continue to provide our volunteers with a hands-on way to give back and reach as many children as possible!