Beach themed gift bags and sea inspired
special events for medically ill children 3-18 years
Jill’s philosophy is “Imagine…then Create!” Inspired by Walt Disney she has a passion and vision for theme oriented special events. She spent most of her life in the fashion and makeup industry. Jill is an advocate for the arts and has brought her musical talent into schools and family centers. She has a historical interest in Coney Island, when it was a magical playground to the Victorians, and also enjoys being a judge at Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade.
Jill is also a mermaid collector. She believes that mermaids are more than just hair and beauty. She believes they are a constant source of intrigue and creativity. They encourage everyone to sparkle, they’re great at recycling and friends with all sea life, they’re brave, they care about the ocean and their home, and they keep swimming even in rough waters. Jill founded Girl from the Grotto as a way to give beach themed gift bags to medically ill children from May through October, to encourage creative expression, and bring fun and smiles to their faces.
In his book, Humans of New York, the photographer Brandon Stanton does a pediatric story from Memorial Sloan Kettering. There is a photo of two sisters with the following quote: “I got cancer in the summer when the pools were opening. And I really wanted to go swimming but I couldn’t leave the hospital. I begged her not to go swimming without me. And she didn’t because I couldn’t.”
It is difficult for kids who are sick, getting treatment or recovering from surgery if they can’t enjoy outdoor fun or summer vacation. Girl from the Grotto provides a beach themed gift bag filled with a variety of toys, games, art projects, stuffed toys and toiletries to medically ill children for some “indoor” fun. Multiple studies have proven that toys can really make a difference during these medical experiences and long after. Many of the stuffed animals become lifelong friends. We aim to bring smiles to the faces of these brave children and we hope that somehow our gift becomes part of their healing.
WAYS TOYS HELP:
- They combat boredom
- Soothe/Decrease fear and anxiety
- Help a child cope with the unknown
- Help the child-life specialists and staff bond with the child
- Offer opportunities for play with siblings and families
It all started in 1999 with a visit to Bridgeport hospital and giving a teddy bear to a hospitalized child. That same year Jill decided to pick up the guitar and create a musical program called “Jingle with Jill.” She then founded a charitable organization called “Teddy Bears and TeaCups, Inc.” along with a scholarship program called “Follow Your Art”. The organization provided teddy bears, concerts, musical instruments, puppets, art supplies and art projects to classrooms, day-care centers and parent/child centers in Bridgeport, CT as well as schools in Fairfield /Southport and the Bronx, NY. “Follow Your Art” offered financial assistance for kids who wanted to pursue their interest in music, dance or art lessons. Throughout the years parents and their children were invited to free concerts with various entertainers including children’s performer and songwriter Bill Shontz of the nationally acclaimed duo Rosenshontz. Jill became known as the “Teddy Bear Lady” having a personal collection of her own Teddy Bears with the philosophy that these lifelong friends can bring comfort, love, care and security. She has received letters from patients who still have that very first bear delivered to them years ago.
Together with volunteers, she delivered hundreds of teddy bears and creative toys to schools and children in hospitals throughout Connecticut. Jill’s love for all things nautical had always been present. The future care of sealife and the ocean is a big part of her work. As a child, Jill imagined she was a mermaid and spent hours in the water, testing how long she could swim and hold her breath. Jill was frequently asked by her parents to “take a break!” A few years ago, after purchasing a beautiful mermaid doll at a maritime center, Jill decided to look up the manufacturer and found even more stuffed sea creatures to purchase. Wanting to share in her love for the ocean she founded, “Girl from the Grotto.”
More recently Jill organized three years of the Penfield Beach Sand Sculpture Event together with the Fairfield Beach Residents Association of which she was a longtime Board Member. World Class Master Sand Sculptors created stunning pieces of artwork in sand for beachgoers to enjoy. Jill also served on the Board of Directors of Theatre Within, a non-profit committed to having a positive social impact by providing free, ongoing workshops in creative expression and mindfulness to underserved communities.
Recipients of Girl from the Grotto gift bags include: The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx NY; Morgan Stanley New York Presbyterian Children’s Hospital; Gilda’s Club NYC; Ronald McDonald House, New Haven; New York Presbyterian Hospital Burn Center; Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital; Bridgeport Hospital; and Golisano Children’s Hospital, Rochester NY… so far!
An excerpt from a poem written for Jill when she was only 12.
Thank you Sr. Margaret Paula S.N.D, wherever you are, for seeing the Mermaid in me:
She’s fond too of clear pools
Reflecting the dawn.
She’ll hum you a melody
Like wind-song in motion.
She’ll fashion you stories
Of sea shells in coves when
The tide rushes in
On the beach – on the strand.