'Tis the season for paper chains and glitter, ornament-making and cookie-decorating. So round up your Sharpies and pinking shears: Our friends at Cards for Hospitalized Kids are counting on your creative reserves.
A lot has changed for Jen Rubino since we first told you about her card-making org, spreading well-wishes to brave young hospital patients in Chicago. Jen created this org from the heart. Diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness at 11, Jen, now 18, has been in and out of hospitals for much of her life and has gone through 23 surgeries. This is where she realized that kindness, construction paper and glitter from a stranger can make all the difference in the world. The power of a heartfelt and homemade greeting card goes a long way as Jen can attest to when she received a sweet card from a stranger. From then on she decided to pay it forward.
This past year she has since taken the project to a national level -- with plans to keep growing -- and distributed thousands of cards to kids who need the boost. She added some new celebrity supporters to an already impressive list — Lucy Hale (from "Pretty Little Liars"), AnnaSophia Robb (aka young Carrie Bradshaw in the upcoming "The Carrie Diaries"), Olympic gold medalist gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman. These stars are offering up their autographs for some of their craftiest fans this season. And as part of a just-launched contest (which ends of December 31), the star-studded swag will go to whomever sends in the most cards over the next few weeks -- cards that mean a whole lot to sick kids who can't make it home for the holidays.
We caught up with Jen and got the inside info on what it takes to be a contest contender. Hint: Stock supplies in bulk.
ACT: Cards for Hospitalized Kids has grown so much since we last talked! How are you handling the bump in responsibility and work?
JEN: I've done my best to be very organized and make weekly to-do lists of everything that needs to be done and that's helped a lot. There's a lot of planning and hard work, but I love it! Seeing a child smile despite their pain after receiving a card from us makes all the hard work worth it.
ACT: Has the new contest drawn attention to particularly ambitious Super Card-Makers? If you could predict, how many cards do you think the winner will make?
JEN: Yes, it absolutely has! People are already sending us messages about the cards they're going to make. Last year, one teen girl made 500 cards and I'm really hoping we can top that or maybe even double it!
ACT: Holiday card-making: Homemade is better. Are your celebrity supporters getting crafty, too?
JEN: Our celebrity supporters primarily send in autographs for the kids to receive, but even with the autographs, they get very creative.
Photo: Olympic Gymnast Danell Leyva brings a smile to this adorable kid! (Facebook)
ACT: Do you have a direct message to pass on from any of the kids receiving cards this year?
JEN: My message would be to remember that you're not alone and that you ARE strong enough to deal with all the challenges you're facing, I believe in you!!
ACT: You've seen a lot of well-wishes cross your desk -- and a lot of reactions from recipients. Drawing on your experience, finish this sentence: "The spirit of the holidays is about ..."
JEN: "... showing the people in pain and who are suffering that you care."