Radio Lollipop, an international charity benefiting children in hospitals, was founded in England in 1979. Miami Children’s Hospital was the first in the United States to establish the program in 1996 and the in-house radio station celebrated its 15th birthday with a party on Thursday, Aug. 11.
The festive event featured decorations, people in colorful costumes, face painting, arts and crafts, a live animal demonstration from Zoo Miami and food for the young patients and their families provided by Sushi Maki, Fuddruckers and Shake Shack.
Nuria Claramunt, assistant director of Community and Volunteer Resources and the Radio Lollipop program, was coordinating the event celebrated throughout most areas of the hospital.
“We have a lot of entertainment, activities, popcorn — everything you would expect a party to have,” Claramunt said. “Radio Lollipop has about 70-80 volunteers who are active. Those kids in the hospital who can’t leave their rooms, they have the Radio Lollipop volunteers bringing entertainment to their bedside. When the doors open at the studio, it is a real radio station, just like the professional radio stations, so it has to have all the equipment for the kids that can come out and want to see a real radio station and be deejays on the air. But then we also have the volunteers who go throughout all the floors, so they’ll visit every child that’s in the hospital during the show.”
The two-hour shows are broadcast live with the on-floor volunteers four days a week. The station broadcasts within the hospital on Channel 26, so the children can listen to the deejays, the music, and can call in for the contests to win prizes, which the volunteers deliver.
“Each night there’s between 15 and 20 volunteers,” Claramunt said. “We have some volunteers who have been here since day one. They bring their talents and skills and they share them with the program to bring joy, activities and laughter to kids who are stressed. Laughter is the best medicine of all, and that’s what Radio Lollipop brings to all the kids. It’s magic.”
Marc Kuperman is one of the volunteers who has been there all 15 years of the program and is glad he made the decision to participate.
“I was born in Miami and spent my entire professional career here, and at about that time I was looking for something to get involved with to give back to the community,” Kuperman said. “I was attracted because it combined working with children and music.
“The enriching part for me is when you see the children’s faces — a child who may have been cranky or crying or in pain, and in many instances you’re able to cheer them up, distract them, get them laughing and joking and thinking about things other than why they’re in the hospital.”
Kuperman said that the volunteers, whether studio deejays or those working the floors, interact with the patients and provide care, comfort and play not only to the children but also to their families as well. For him, volunteering is rewarding and performance is a wonderful change of pace.
“I’m an attorney in real life, and my professional career is not even remotely like what I do here,” Kuperman said. “There’s a special feeling that you get when you leave here at the end of a show. You feel like you’re making a difference, and you know that the children really do appreciate it. That’s important to me.”
Another of the three original volunteers who still is participating with the program is Nora Barriere, who brings to the children her bubbly personality, cute character voices and puppets. When she started, performance didn’t come naturally to her.
“I had never done this before and was very nervous and couldn’t say anything and the other girl with me said, ‘do your voices,’ and sure enough, when I did, I was not nervous any more and was able to do the show,” Barriere said. “And then at the end of the show we hugged each other and cried. We were very emotional.
“Through the years, so many times the kids say to you, ‘because of you I feel better.’ Sometimes a parent will say to you, ‘this is the first time my child smiled today,’ and that makes you feel so good. It gives you so much gratification that you did this.”
Radio Lollipop’s day-to-day operation depends on volunteers, charitable donations and fundraising activities.