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SIMPLY JESSICA: Chris Helfrich talks about Starlight Children’s Foundation

Chris Helfrich, the CEO of Starlight Children’s Foundation, watched tears run down a family’s face on Oct. 21 at Starlight’s Dream Halloween Celebrity Costume Party.

He listened as a mother, father and two siblings thanked him for the magical night that the Starlight Children’s Foundation was giving their child and their brother (Crosby) who is battling a rare medical condition.

“I was moved when the family thanked the Starlight Children’s Foundation for recognizing the toll that this illness takes on the entire family,” Helfrich said. “The family was thrilled that Crosby’s two siblings were involved. They had this fantastic night out. It made the whole night for me. It’s proof positive that we are serving a greater purpose that makes it worthwhile as we help children and families.”

Starlight Children’s Foundation hosted its annual Dream Halloween costume party at the MacArthur in Los Angeles Oct. 21 with presenting sponsors Michaels and Aaron Brothers.

Boy band stars and Disney Music Group’s In Real Life performed as the event’s headliner with additional performances by Buena Vista Records’ country trio Temecula Road, Alexander Jean, featuring duo Mark Ballas and BC Jean, and all-kid world class aerial and circus arts company Le Petit Cirque on the main stage.

Celebrity guests included Jenna Ortega, Eris Baker, Olivia Sanabia and Isabela Moner explored two floors of spook-takular activities throughout the extravaganza, enjoying live performances and arts and crafts (including a slime station), toy giveaways and unique surprises throughout the evening.

In Real Life played Nintendo on Starlight Fun Centers and participated in Jedi training with sick kids in the Disney/Lucasfilm dedicated space.

Since 1992, Dream Halloween has raised millions of dollars and brought together celebrities, philanthropic individuals and socially responsible companies to entertain and delight children affected by serious illnesses.

Helfrich met Crosby and his two siblings Oct. 5 at a special event at Children’s Hospital Orange County. Helfrich was there to celebrate the new Starlight Brave Gowns featuring Darth Vader, Chewbacca and R2-D2.

The Starlight Brave Gown program was first announced at Dream Halloween 2016. Starlight worked around the clock to make it happen.

In its first 12 months, it gave away 150,000 gowns.

Isabela Moner, left, and Jenna Ortega at the Dream Halloween 2017 Costume Party benefitting Starlight Children’s Foundation at the MacArthur on Oct. 21. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The Walt Disney Company has a long history of partnering with the foundation to make the hospital experience more magical for a child.

Starlight Children’s Foundation and the Walt Disney Company have decided to replace the traditional gown worn in the hospital with a Starlight Brave Gown, which transforms the hospitalized child into their favorite Star Wars character.

“It is a dream come true for us that we can replace the traditional hospital gowns the kids wear with a soft comfortable, colorful gown that has their favorite character on it,” Helfrich said.

Starlight Children’s Foundation is a charity that works with hospitals all over the United States to make the hospital experience as fun and comfortable as possible for seriously ill kids and their families.

Starlight Children’s Foundation Dream Halloween Celebrity Costume Party is the perfect time of year to bring the wonder of the holidays to kids and their families as this night also represents a night out or a day away from their serious or chronic illness.

“It’s a night where Starlight can bring the magic of Halloween to kids and their families because they deserve it,” Helfrich said. “It’s an evening away from whatever they’re going through as we try to bring as much magic and wonder to the evening as possible.”

Starlight coordinates with its hospital partners throughout California to connect with families who have a child that is undergoing treatment that can benefit from a night out.

Helfrich is proud that Starlight Children’s Foundation represents to the families a community of support as they go through this journey as a family as their child battles a serious medical illness.

The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm are working with Starlight Children’s Foundation in a number of ways. Star Wars Force For Change allows hospitalized children to imagine themselves transforming into a Star Wars character using virtual reality.

“In early 2018 Starlight Virtual Reality Program and Starlight Force For Change will be bringing virtual reality into children’s hospitals around the country,” Helfrich said. “Kids who are stuck in hospital for a long time battling illness can experience the immersive magic of virtual reality and it can virtually teleport them anywhere in the world they want to go.”

In Real Life performs onstage at the Dream Halloween 2017 Costume Party benefitting Starlight Children’s Foundation at the MacArthur on Oct. 21. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

The launch of Starlight Virtual Reality as a program will entertain, educate and inspire the imagination of thousands of hospitalized young patients across the United States.

Star Wars: Force For Change is the program’s founding sponsor with additional funding from Niagara Cares and virtual reality technology powered by Google. The program began in late 2017.

Starlight has started distributing the program to its network of children’s hospitals. It is an initiative from Lucasfilm to use the power of Star Wars to improve the lives of children around the world.

“Starlight Virtual Reality is a game-changer in the pediatric health care space,” Helfrich said. “We’re excited to have Lucasfilm and Disney, Google and Niagara Cares alongside us as we harness the power of virtual reality to bring more smiles to hospitalized kids when they need it.”

Star Wars: Force For Change, through Disney, is providing a generous grant to Starlight that will fund the placement of up to 270 Starlight virtual reality headsets and equipment in hospitals across the U.S.

Lucasfilm will provide Star Wars-themed content for the program.

The grant also supports the delivery of Starlight Brave Gowns and Starlight Star Visits. A significant grant from Niagara Cares, a philanthropic program of Niagara Bottling, will fund research and development for Starlight VR, as well as impact reporting to inform future program enhancements and usage recommendations.

In addition to the exclusive Star Wars VR content, the program will incorporate many of Google’s VR technologies, including: Google Expeditions, virtual field trips to the world’s most amazing places for children over the age of 7, as well as Daydream, Google Earth VR, and Tilt Brush for children over the age of 13.

Starlight VR will be stored in a hygienic, user-friendly encasement that can easily move throughout a hospital in a secure mobile storage unit, and will also include a stationary, fully interactive VR experience.

Helfrich is excited about working with Disney and Lucasfilm.

“We’re able to be a distribution center for Disney,” Helfrich said. “We love having their awesome toys, books and other products that they can donate through Starlight and we get it into the hands of kids and families that are in hospitals who need them the most.”

Starlight Children’s Foundation’s Chris Helfrich. left, and Elissa Margolis at the Dream Halloween 2017 Costume Party benefitting Starlight Children’s Foundation at the MacArthur on Oct. 21. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Starlight Children’s Foundation)

The CEO of Starlight tells what the foundation needs most.

“We are really in need of more supporters, partners and ambassadors who can help us sell our work such as the Starlight Brave Gown,” Helfrich said. “Starlight Brave Gowns was an idea that we had to revolutionize gowns for all children in the hospital.

It cost $25 dollars so anyone can donate a gown or raise money to donate a gown to a hospitalized kid but we’re not going to rest until every hospitalized child in United States has a better hospital gown.”

He hopes to get America behind this vision.

“We want to rally America behind these efforts to help hospitalized kids have a better gown to make their hospital experience more comfortable,” Helfrich added.

Helfrich will make the Starlight Brave Gown program a hit.

“Every child that is hospitalized with a serious illness in the United States should have access to a Starlight Brave Gown,” Helfrich said.

Helfrich hopes by the end of 2018 to have Starlight VR in every children’s hospital in the United States as a way to distract and entertain so as to provide fun for the child while he or she is in the hospital. He hopes to bring education into the hospital using VR because it allows hospitalized kids to go on a virtual field trip.

Helfrich shares Starlight’s educational plan for hospitalized children.

“We need to provide educational value to hospitalized children,” Helfrich said. “When kids go into the hospital and stay for a length of time, school stops. We can work at scale to help solve this by working with educational companies to see how can Starlight be a part of solving this riddle and make sure that education continues for seriously ill children.

“This is our focus in the next three to five years.”

Starlight Children’s Foundation also needs ambassadors.

“We have grassroot supporters who are the everyday Americans who are getting involved and donating money,” Helfrich said. “We also have partners like Disney. But, we need ambassadors who are celebrities and influencers who are using their platforms creatively to get fans and followers to be engaged in our work so they can make a difference on our behalf. It is a priority for Starlight.”

Be yourself! I’m Simply Jessica JcAden. You can reach me at jess.gosnell@gmail.com.

 

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