As Dr. Gregory Kennedy, a CHOC pediatrician, is setting up his lesson at the Illumination Foundation family emergency shelter, he is greeted by his students, who range from ages 7 to 14. They enthusiastically share with him what they remember from their last health education session.
“The heart’s operated by electricity,” says one student.
“The heart is a muscle,” exclaims another.
These moments, Dr. Kennedy says—when children show joy in their learning—form favorite memories for him in his journey to developing Mini Medical School, a science and education series for homeless youth in Orange County.
Philanthropy enhancing the Mini Medical School experience
Supported by philanthropy, the program was created in 2019 to spark children’s interest in a STEM discipline—science, technology, engineering and math—and offer consistent contact with caring adults, including CHOC providers, volunteers and residents in the UC Irvine-CHOC pediatric residency. Dr. Geeta Grover, a CHOC developmental and behavioral pediatrician, Christy Campo, CHOC child life specialist, and Dr. Kennedy led the partnership with Illumination Foundation, the Orange County nonprofit, to start these Mini Medical School sessions.
For each class in the education series, a human organ system is selected to teach the children about their bodies and health. Past lessons have focused on the heart, lung, abdomen and brain.
A year into Mini Medical School’s inception, the CHOC team knew that to enhance the program, extra supplies and models were crucial. Part of the fun for the children in the classes are the interactive activities with the models of the organ systems. From heart models to life-sized skeletons, these visuals provide opportunities for the children to engage with the curriculum and retain what they are learning.
This is when they turned to One Wish Grants (OWG), a program designed to advance CHOC physician and staff ideas into fully functional hospital initiatives. OWG are funded solely through philanthropy, including support from CHOC associates who participate in the Associate Giving Program. The program offers a truly distinctive opportunity for employees to dream up life-changing concepts to solve pediatric healthcare’s greatest challenges.
Out of over 100 applications, Mini Medical School was one of the seven winning OWG projects that was awarded with innovation support in 2021. With the funding, the Mini Medical School staff was able to purchase more educational supplies and further build their curriculum to include new health and medical topics.
The successes and continual growth of Mini Medical School are also made possible by corporate donors like ADP, who recently raised over $50,000 during its ADP Meeting of the Minds Thriving Together (conference) in support of OWG projects.
“It was great to see CHOC and ADP associates providing donation and investing in awesome programs like Mini Medical School, a program that’s near and dear to my heart and that I’m a recipient of,” said Dr. Kennedy.
Disrupting the Cycle of Homelessness
Unstable housing conditions in early childhood have far-reaching effects, including a lack of trust in health care and healthcare workers. This makes programs like Mini Medical School essential in addressing youth affected by housing insecurity and strengthening their medical literacy to make the hospital experience less intimidating. Illumination Foundation cares for approximately 200 housing-insecure children in Orange County at a time, which is the population that CHOC’s Mini Medical School serves.
“A lot of these kids [at the Illumination Foundation] are either in single-parent households or in households where neither parent has attended or completed college,” says Dr. Kennedy. “What we’re hoping is that through education with Mini Medical School, and getting them excited about the lessons and their futures and encouraging them to pursue a higher-level education, that they are going to strive for higher education and help break that cycle of homelessness.”
The work with Mini Medical School has led to a partnership with CHOC Primary Care clinics, where appointments with CHOC providers are held for urgent needs families at the Illumination Foundation. In addition, Dr. Grover and Dr. Kennedy continue to work diligently with the Illumination Foundation’s social work team to connect housing-insecure families with CHOC resources and ensuring that their children receive established care.
Looking ahead, Mini Medical School aims to standardize its curriculum into 10 educational modules on the organ systems, and then use it as a springboard to extend its reach and share across schools in Orange County.
“Pediatrics is all about preventative health,” said Dr. Kennedy. “So, teaching these children how to take care of themselves and getting them familiar with going to the doctor by having them see CHOC representatives consistently shows them that ‘we care about you and we want you to care and learn about yourself as well.’”
Invest in Innovation at CHOC
While One Wish Grants give CHOC physicians and associates the ability to pioneer new solutions to serve our community, this program is only possible through philanthropy. With your support, the One Wish Grants program will bring groundbreaking new ideas into reality.