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Non-profit organization provides normality, retreat for Nationwide Children’s patients

Anna Duee / For the Lantern

Four years ago, Amanda Knapp tried to find a part-time job through a babysitting service in Columbus, Ohio, to pay her way through college, but she never heard back from the agency. That led her husband to ask, “Why don’t you start your own service?” and two months later, she did just that, launching Sitting Made Simple in 2008.

But that simple idea became so much more.

Knapp received a call from the crying mother of a child at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who needed a sitter to come to the hospital to spend time with her sick daughter, a new idea was born: Simply Friends Forever.

Simply Friends Forever (SFF) is a non-profit organization that provides an arts and crafts session in which the whole family can participate, and offers a moment of normality without thinking of medical bills or surgeries. The focus of SFF is not only on the patients, but also their siblings, who often feel left out.

“Having some creative time to take their mind off their troubles is sometimes as good as a night’s sleep, and the community it creates as they ‘craft’ together is great as they get to know each other and share their stories,” said Heidi Drake, a volunteer manager at the Ronald McDonald House. “SFF has come up with fabulous activities that both kids and parents can enjoy, so as many people as possible can participate and benefit.”

Knapp said it took more than a year until she was able to turn her idea into SFF in September 2011. Through the support of her sitters and incoming donations, Knapp had the foundation she needed for its first session.

“I love volunteering and it’s such a good cause. It’s really rewarding,” said Jenna Craig, a SMS sitter. “But I stay away from (medical) topics, because (the families) come here to get away from that and you don’t want to bring that back up. Anything we can do to help to make it easier is worth it.”

Three months later, the organization partnered with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, where it had its first 2012 meeting Jan. 4. The Ronald McDonald House takes the project very seriously and makes sure that these meetings are a safe environment because of the sensitivity of the children’s circumstances.

Knapp said she remembers a statement her mother made, saying the fact she is able to just sit at a table and decorate ornaments is perfect. For her mother, it was nice to come and focus on something so simple, Knapp said.

Evelyn Kopp, whose grandson is a patient at Children’s Hospital, is taking care of her granddaughter, who is not allowed to come with her parents to visit her brother because it’s high-rated flu season. Kopp said although the hospital offers a sitting service, it only lasts for two hours and she never knows what to do with the rest of the time.

“Our goal is to give them some piece of fun,” Knapp said. “We just want to bring some type of distraction to the children, and some normalcy to the parents.”

SFF will continue its meetings every second Saturday and fourth Wednesday of the month at the Ronald McDonald House. For the future, Knapp is planning on cooperative events with COSI and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and expanding her service to Cincinnati.


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