During extremely tough times, a little kindness can go a long way. And nursing student Alyssa Banks is making that happen as the founder of the Princess Program Foundation, which she runs from her home in Bellingham, Massachusetts.
“We wanted a way to make them feel beautiful and also remind them that they are not alone,” Banks said.
The idea started in 2017 when she was 18 years old, volunteering at a camp for kids who are terminally ill and heard a comment from one girl she will never forget.
“She said ‘I'm never going to get to go to Disney' and it broke my heart,” Banks said. “But it also inspired me to find a way to bring that Disney-like magic to her.”
“I don't know how she does it because there's no way I would have been able to do it as a 22-year-old,” volunteer Cait Hawes said.
Banks has help. Thirty-five volunteers and counting from all over the country.
“It's seeing the smiles on their faces and the way that they're just able to connect with some of their favorite characters,” Hawes said.
“It is honestly one of the most rewarding things. I myself grew up in and out of hospitals because I have two chronic illnesses, so I know what it's like,” volunteer Caitlin Smith said.
These volunteers see first hand how emotional this can be for the kids, parents and even themselves.
“We had a child come on and tell Rapunzel that he has a brain tumor,” Banks said. “But he's going to fight it and he's going to win.”
“A child was telling me about her unicorn birthday and all that good stuff,” Hawes said. “And then out of the blue, she went, 'Well, you know, I'm a chemo girl.' And it took me a second because we had just been talking about everything else under the sun, and I was like, 'This is what she knows. This is this is her life.'”
With over 420,000 followers on TikTok, the Princess Program has found more ways to connect with families going through difficult times.
Paisley Kinney was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma on May 25, 2021.
“The scariest moment," recalled Paisley's mom, Mariah. "And it was actually right after we found the Princess Program, and they kind of helped Paisley talk through all of this. She almost went to the ICU because she was not able to breathe on her own. She had the flu and probably three other viruses."
With that kind of trauma and it happening during the pandemic, Mariah said Paisley wasn’t talking. But the princesses helped bring out her personality.
And today, Paisley is doing great.
“We are almost a year into it and we actually just got her scans back today. You are going to be the first one to hear this. She is officially cancer free," Mariah told us. "I literally just got told like five minutes ago!”