Meg's Gifts Kids Helping Kids Helping Kids

By Christine L. Pollock

Laughter and giggles erupt from children watching videos in the hospital room. In a world filled with hardship, the grinning faces are a nice break from the reality that threatens to intrude. The pain of separation from families and the endless stream of medication, doctors, and nurses is forgotten as the children focus on the movie in front of them. This movie, the children's escape from their fight for survival, is an indirect gift from a girl just like them. A leukemia patient. This video is part of Meg's Gifts.

Years ago, Mardi Clemens, Meg's mother, talked with Ned Waldman, the publisher for Tom Hegg's book, PEEF The Christmas Bear. As Ned talked with excitement about the stuffed bears they planned to market with the book, Mardi commented that she wished the kids at Riley's Hospital, in Indianapolis, had something like that. She knew firsthand what the hospital experience was like and knew the joy these bears could bring. To her delight, Ned agreed, and donated some bears.

Ranny Levy, founder and president of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media had already begun donating videos to the Children's Hospital at the University of New Mexico. When Mardi told her about her plan, Ranny offered to organize donating videos to Mardi's cause in memory of her daughter and Meg's Gifts had its official beginning in 1996 as a project of the Coalition. In 2003, Meg's Gifts became its own stand-alone, not for profit organization.

In its first year, Meg's Gifts donated videotapes to twenty hospitals. In the second year, the were donating to more than one hundred hospitals. In 2003, the list expanded to almost three hundred hospitals similar institutions nationwide from Alaska to New York to California. Over ten thousand videos have been distributed to date.

Not just any video is donated. This is a program with a blend of goals. The Coalition's mission of empowering kids to be discerning media users joined with Meg's Gifts' mission of connection, community and compassion. Therefore, the videos donated by Meg's Gifts must be endorsed by KIDS FIRST! and suitable for use in hospitals. To receive a KIDS FIRST! endorsement, a title must first meet or exceed the KIDS FIRST! criteria of no gratuitous violence or sexuality; no physical or verbal abuse; no bias in terms of race, gender, culture or religion; no condescension toward children, and no unsafe behaviors. Additionally, it must be approved by children.

The Community Harvest Food Bank in Fort Wayne provides warehouse space for Meg's Gifts. Volunteers package and mail them. Students from the Bishop Dwenger High School Key Club donate their time to pack and ship the videos. Last year more than thirty students volunteered. The videos are sent to the hospitals every January.

One of the things that makes Meg's Gifts particularly heart-warming is the triangle of children working together. The kids who evaluate the videos help select the best ones. The older kids pack and ship the videos to the hospitals. Finally, hospitalized kids are helped by the videos they get to watch at the hospitals. Kids and compassion are what Meg's Gifts is all about.

When a hospital or organization receives a video from Meg's Gifts, they already know it is excellent material because of this screening process. Tammy Else, a Child Life Specialist at the Lutheran Children's Hospital in Fort Wayne, IN, says, "Meg's gifts makes parents feel better about the quality of programming their kids watch." She states that the workers and children in the hospital feel really lucky to have so many videos donated. They now have a video library in which the videos approved by KIDS FIRST!® have a star on them so that parents know they are quality videos. The library keeps the KIDS FIRST!® resource book on hand so they can look up other movie titles to be included.

At Lutheran Children's Hospital, the donated videos are used for inpatients as well as outpatients. They are also shown to children in the pediatric intensive care unit. Using the videos in the hospital help to distract and entertain children who are undergoing difficult procedures such as dialysis or chemotherapy.

When three child jurors, CJ (10), Zebulon (7) and Hudson (4) heard about Meg's Gifts, they commented, "I never thought it (reviewing the videos) was such a big thing. It's fun for me and it helps them. I think it's really cool that they donate the videos. I didn't know kids in the hospital watch movies."

Meg's Gifts consistently gets feedback from the Child Life Directors in hospital units saying, "Thank you very much. We love what you do. We don't have this in our budget and even if we did, we wouldn't know what to choose. It's top quality material. Please don't take us off your list."

The children in the hospital who watch the videos send cards and pictures thanking the organization for their donations. One card was a beautiful, full-page picture of a house with the words "Videos make the hospital our home away from home."

With more and more hospitals across the nation added to the list, how does Meg's Gifts acquire all their videos? The major source is donations from the producers or suppliers themselves. Warner Brothers Home Video, Walt Disney Home Entertainment, MGM Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment, and the Discovery Channel have all made substantial donations along with many independent producers. They have donated classic titles as well as modern ones – titles such as "A Bug's Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

Additional videos are purchased with money Meg's Gifts raises through fund-raising activities. When Meg's Gifts began, family and friends were the major donors. As it has grown, more funds were needed and raised. Meg's sister, Kathryn Clemens, pulled off the first fund-raising event in Indianapolis with the help of her siblings and friends. For the past three years, a group of golfers on the board have organized an annual golf fund-raising activity.

Meg's Gifts still relies heavily on donated videos from producer and distributors. We invite members and supporters of KIDS FIRST! to participate in Meg's Gifts, either as a donor or to sell your programming at a discount.

If you know of a hospital or organization that would benefit from this program, please ask them to contact Meg's Gifts. There is no fee charged to any hospital for participating, all videos and DVDs are donated with no strings attached. .

For further information, please contact Mardi Clemens, Director, Meg's Gifts, 1801 Kensington Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46805, 260-424-8881.

Films DVDs Help Hospitalized Kids

kFifteen million hospitalized children will have the chance to watch and enjoy quality children's videos, DVDs and CD-ROMs as part of the Meg's Gifts Program administered by KIDS FIRST!, one of the programs of the national not for profit Coalition for Quality Children's Media. Instead of these kids being bombarded with images from television like the horrific events in the news last September (9/11/01), young patients, who unfortunately spend long hours in bed with little to do, but hopefully recuperate, will have a chance to turn to quality children's media to help them escape their pain.

Last November, volunteers in Fort Wayne, Indiana gathered for an intensive day devoted to sorting, packing, and shipping almost 10,000 videotapes, DVDs and CD-ROMs to more than 258 children's hospitals and related institutions through Meg's Gifts, which collects donated videotapes and DVDs from major studios and independent producers and sends them to out to hospitals across the country, from San Diego Children's Hospital to Children's Hospital of Greenville, South Carolina. Most of these hospitals have no budgets to purchase software. The children who are hospitalized live in a world apart and these programs help them escape momentarily from their pain and suffering by giving them the sort of entertainment that is uplifting, fun and full of hope.

mardi"Sometimes, a stay in the hospital is filled with anxiety and pain. These wonderful programs will provide comfort to our pediatric patients and their families throughout the year," says Cheri Goldman, Director, Child Life Program, Children's Hospital of New Mexico.

Meg's Gifts accepts only those programs that have received the KIDS FIRST! endorsement. To earn the endorsements, programs must be meet or exceed the following criteria: no gratuitous violence or verbal abuse, no inappropriate sexual behavior, no bias in terms of race, gender, culture or religion, no unsafe behavior, and no condescending behavior.

In the words of Cathleen Randon, The Regional Medical Center for Children, New Orleans, "The best part of your donation is knowing that your organization has put their ‘stamp of approval,' KIDS FIRST!, on each one."

Meg's Gifts was established in 1996 in honor of Meg Clemens who died at the age of l5 from leukemia and who spent too much lonely time in hospital rooms. Meg's Gifts is supported entirely by donations from the media industry, anonymous donations, and the Coalition for Quality Children's Media - Ft. Wayne Chapter. For more information, or to learn hor you can participate either as a donor or donee, contact Mardi Clemens, Meg's Gifts Director, at 219-424-8881 or send an email to [email protected].

"Speaking for our family and many others like us everywhere, we thank you for joining a project that celebrates life, love, courage, compassion and healing. You have become part of an incredible cast of heroes - unsung & invisible in most incidences, valiant in all. We are grateful to you and we commend your awareness of the intrinsic value of contributing your resources to our youngsters who need contact with the outside' world. You have entered their dark world, filled with danger, fear and suffering bringing them messages of truth and beauty and light. For that you are good.

kWe thank you,
kThe Clemens Family"

kMeg's Gifts is supported by donations from the media industry and volunteers from Fort Wayne, Indiana who call for donations and then sort, pack, and ship them.






The Coalition piloted a violence prevention initiative for at-risk children and families that uses entertainment videotapes showing positive behaviors. With the help of Dr. Victor LaCerva, selection criterion common in any successful violence prevention program were applied to the title selection. They include:

  • Increased ability to name, identify and express the basic emotions: mad, glad, sad and afraid.Recognition that all feelings are okay, though all behaviors are not.Increased ability to resolve conflict in nonviolent ways.Appropriate use of time-out: not for punishment but for feeling better.Reduced aggressive play.Reduced or no physical punishment.Increased use of praise for desired behaviorDecreased use of abusive language, humiliation or withdrawal of food or other basic needs.Improved strategies for dealing with aggressive behavior.Increase in number of times a child is offered a choice.Increased emphasis in teaching values.Increase in positive physical touching.Increase in positive coping behaviors for caregiver stress.
  • Increase in supports available to family, friends, neighbors.

Coalition for Quality Children's Media Executive Summary

The Coalition for Quality Children's Media's KIDS FIRST!®initiative rates children's videotapes using a national community-based jury of adults, professionals and children. It endorses programs meeting clearly defined criteria developed by child development professionals and juries of children. Its Videotherapy Program has supplied libraries of endorsed videos to clinics of the Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) Program, administered by the New Mexico State Department of Health, throughout New Mexico for several years. 57 Clinics now participate in the project, showing the videotapes in their waiting rooms while the mothers and children wait for their monthly appointments. Approximately 45,000 women, infants and children throughout New Mexico are served by this project every month.

In 1996, more than 3,000 videotapes valued at $49,000 were added to the existing collections at these sites. These tapes were donated, in whole or in part by the media suppliers (see list below), without whose help this project could not have been implemented.

Reports from the staffs of the WIC clinics have been uniformly positive in describing client reactions to the tapes. WIC staff has reported quieter waiting rooms, interest in the tapes, questions about their children inspired by the videos, and positive models of child rearing presented to the young mothers who are WIC clients. Of particular interest are comments from parents which indicated that they had learned new nonviolent ways of disciplining their children.

In 1996, 3 new WIC sites in Albuquerque joined the other cities and counties participating in the Videotherapy Program. Funding from New Mexico Department of Education and General Mills Foundation allowed a study to examine this use of video as a tool for violence prevention, to assess the effects of the video exposure on child rearing attitudes, and on the use of the media by parents. Three WIC sites were selected for the study.

High Intervention Site: Video presentations were preceded by and followed by discussion, facilitated by a children's media professional. Participants also checked out tapes to watch at home.

Standard Site: The same videos were shown in the waiting room with no discussion.

Control Site: No videos were shown during the study period.

A media survey was administered to all 3 groups at the beginning and at the end of the program period. The greatest change in viewing habits occurred in the High Intervention group. Initially 90 percent reported watching television between 1 and 3 hours each day; that percentage dropped to half that by the end of the period. At the beginning, among the High Intervention subjects, only 12 percent watched less than an hour of television a day. That increased to 40 percent at the post test.

In January, none of the participants had selection criteria for their television viewing. In May, 40 percent of the responses had set conditions attached to their estimates: conditions relating to the appropriateness and quality of the television programs.

Parents were asked how many hours per day they believed that children should be allowed to watch television. The mean dropped from 4 hours at pretest to 2.7 hours at post test among those who did not mention any conditions, and to 2 hours among those who set conditions. Parents who initially found 3 to 4 hours a day acceptable limits reduced those limits almost in half.

When asked how often they rented video tapes, at pretest 80 percent of the High Intervention group reported renting less than 2 or 3 a month; at post test that percentage dropped to 55 percent, suggesting an increase in video rentals. Considering that this group sharply cut their television viewing, it appears that they have substituted tapes for at least part of that time.

The television image, however it is delivered, is the most powerful communication medium, and agent of socialization in contemporary America. Like any tool, it can be used for positive gains or as a destructive force in family life. Children born to families in economic stress are at risk of both receiving and using violence as a means of interpersonal problem solving. Often the young mothers are victims of physical abuse and know no other way to discipline or socialize their children. A video designed as entertainment that presents positive images of parenting and models of problem solving are nonthreatening and easy to use. By introducing these tapes to mothers and their children in a facilitated discussion session with a knowledgeable leader, we appear to have made a significant difference. In a relatively short period of time, the clients dramatically changed their television viewing patterns: reducing the time spent watching TV, becoming more selective, and using videotapes more often.


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