Duke basketball never stops. Except sometimes it does for a worthy cause.
During the summer senior Ryan Kelly, a public policy major and co-captain of the basketball team, interned at The Monday Life, a nonprofit that asks people to donate a dollar each Monday that goes toward enriching the lives of hospitalized children. While interning, he primarily worked on fundraising but also often visited Duke Children’s Hospital to see what improvements could be made or visit the children, boosting their moods.
“Nobody really loves being in the hospital, but we want to make it as good as we can,” Kelly said. “One part of that is these kids are missing out on going to school and being with their friends, so if you can try and somewhat recreate that environment, it’s big to them.”
By himself, Kelly raised $1,282 for Healing and Hope Through Science, a program through the N.C. Botanical Garden that brings hands-on natural science activities to hospitalized children, said Katie Stoudemire, the program’s coordinator. It currently exists at both North Carolina Children’s Hospital and Duke Children’s Hospital.
“The idea is to help kids reconnect to the natural world, to make them excited about learning about science and to provide positive distraction,” Stoudemire said. “This is a really enriching experience and it helps support their education.”
Kelly chose the program because of his passion for education. He said he is focusing his studies on the educational side of public policy and that both of his parents work in education.
“Doctors use very difficult jargon, and when you’re a kid, that’s scary—you don’t really know what they’re talking about,” Kelly said. “[Healing and Hope Through Science tries] to explain what they’re talking about with their blood cells or whatever it was just to make them more aware and educated.”
When Kelly presented the donation to the program, his teammates Mason Plumlee, Marshall Plumlee and Tyler Thorton accompanied him. The players helped kids make models of blood cells using different candies—Red Hots for red blood cells and Mentos for white blood cells. They also helped the kids use microscopes to look at fake blood.
“The activity was designed to be fun and to empower the kids by helping them to understand their blood and how their bodies work and to use tools that scientists and doctors use, like syringes and microscopes,” Stoudemire said.
Working with the kids, Kelly added, has also helped bring him and his teammates together.
“As a team we go through a lot of highs and lows but when you step into a hospital you really see that our worst isn’t necessarily the worst that is out there,” he said. “There are things that are more important than a game of basketball, and when [we] take a step back we can have a greater appreciation for what we have.”
Chris Mangum, who works in social media at The Monday Life, noted that the kids love playing with the basketball players because “they are just like these big giants.”
Although Kelly is no longer officially interning with The Monday Life, he said he is still trying to do anything and everything that he can.
“Some internships can be something that you just have to do,” Kelly said. “But I was fortunate to find something that, [although] I didn’t really know it totally at first… I was really passionate about it and that has been the most rewarding experience. I’m passionate about making the Children’s Hospital a better place.”
Kelly added that the Duke basketball program will soon begin creating a fundraising page to help The Monday Life, which was founded by former basketball manager Joey McMahon.
The Monday Life currently exists at Duke and five other children’s hospitals in Colorado, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and Chapel Hill.
“When I was in school I wanted to help but whenever I heard donation, I always thought it had to be $50 or $100, and I didn’t have that,” Mangum said. “I went to N.C.State and people up there weren’t writing checks all the time. We were just trying to make sure we had pizza for the night.”
And as rewarding as the experience is for the children, the basketball players feel the same sense of fulfillment.
“I’ve been fortunate to build some bonds with different children that are in the hospital, and I hope that I’ll leave a mark on them, but they certainly left a mark on me and that’s something I’ll never forget,” Kelly said. “Just this week I’m in the process of making a video for a kid who is in the hospital. He’s a big Duke basketball fan and I just wanted to make a video for him to show him I cared.”