Being in the hospital with a serious illness when you are a kid can be tough.

And while most students at the George L. Hess Elementary School in Mays Landing haven't had to go through that experience, they want kids who are in the hospital to know they understand what they are going through and that they care.

Second- through fifth-grade students in the Orange House unit of the school culminated nearly three months of fundraising right before Valentine's Day and were able to make a $380 donation to Room for Hope, a nonprofit organization committed to making hospitals feel like home for pediatric patients.

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The students also made about 150 Valentine's Day cards for the patients offering words of inspiration, hope and friendship.

The cards were hand-delivered to patients at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., by Shannon Hartey, the founder and CEO of Room for Hope.

"Even at such a young age, the students showed great empathy for these kids in the hospital," said Hartey, 25. "I know they appreciated it very much."

Hartey, a former Hess student who grew up in Mays Landing, knows what it's like to be a kid in a hospital. She had leukemia that was diagnosed when she was 6 years old, and she spent much of the next three years of her life living in a pediatric hospital. After winning her battle, she vowed to find a way to make the tough times a little easier for kids like her to live with cancer.

She grew up to form Room for Hope, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving patient morale through welcome gifts, room personalization and go-home gifts. Besides Nemours, she has partnered with Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, Camden County, and is on the design and planning committee for Give Kids the World, which provides housing to children with compromised immune systems when they visit Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Recently, Room for Hope launched a new program called Kids For Hope, which provides elementary students in the community a chance to work on a service project and get hands-on volunteer experience.

The Hess school is the first to participate, Hartey said.

Second-grade language arts teacher Heather Bahr, who helped coordinate the effort, said the children decided to do a coin drive as their service project for the program.

Two classes in particular - Heather Berardi's fourth grade and Wendy

McKensie's fifth grade - did "outstanding jobs" and each contributed $79 to the grand total, she said. Students in those two classes were treated to a pizza party by the Room for Hope organization, and the other classes were treated to ice pops during lunch.

Hartey said the students and staff at the Hess school are to be congratulated for all their efforts and for supporting Room For Hope.

"As a former Hess student, it was really special for me to have the participation of the school and to see the kids so involved in helping other kids," Hartey said .

Corrie May, the vice president of Room for Hope, is also a former Hess student, and Hartey said they were both proud that current students of the school stepped up to help.

She said she hopes to work with the Hess school again next year for another fundraiser project, and she wants to get more area schools involved in the program.

Anyone interested in becoming involved in Kids For Hope can contact Hartey at shannonsrfh@ or visit the website shannonsroom

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