For more than a decade, Alexandria resident and Realtor Linda Wolf has been collecting toys for hospitalized children in the Washington D.C.- metropolitan area. An independent volunteer and toy collection organizer at National Children’s Medical Center for 11 years, she moved her efforts over to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) with a program she started, “Task Force Smile,” under the non-profit America’s Adopt a Soldier. “Task Force Smile” will start at Walter Reed, but the plan is for it to ultimately reach all military hospitals treating critically ill military children.
“The long term goal is to raise $1.6 million, which will fund toys, toy bins, storage, and transportation of the toys to all military hospitals nationwide caring for our critically ill military children,” said Mary Keeser, president of America’s Adopt a Soldier. “We realize this level of fundraising will take some time so we will be focusing our near term efforts on our local military hospitals, with WRNMMC as our initial project.”
Keeser said AAAS named Wolf as director of Task Force Smile, and in 2014, the program is concentrating on Walter Reed’s pediatric patient rooms and clinics, the intensive care units and the oncology and hematology clinic.
As a new program, there is no official timeline or set deadline for donations. As she always has, Wolf will be accepting donations at any time.
Wolf said that providing as much joy as possible to critically ill children was always a priority for her, but she is especially excited about the transition to help critically ill children of military families.
“We are committed to bring smiles to the faces of these children that are going through such difficult times,” Wolf said. “As a country, we are safe because of the sacrifices made by our military families. Their children need to be our priority. ‘Task Force Smile’ gives us an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ in a meaningful way.”
Six weeks ago, Wolf officially teamed with the already established non-profit organization, America’s Adopt a Soldier so that the program is integrated into an established military and family support organization. Grouping with a 501(c)(3) organization will also make all donations to Task Force Smile tax-deductible.
“Last year when we filled a truckload of toys, I knew I had to become a part of a 501(C)(3). That was the beginning of my partnership with America’s Adopt a Soldier,” Wolf said.
Wolf began her project as an independent volunteer and fundraiser for National Children’s Medical Center, each year collecting toys from clients and friends and delivering them to the cancer unit. She made the switch to WRNMMC when she realized how much more military children would benefit from her toy donations.
Conversations with one mother whose terminally ill son had doctors at both Children’s Hospital and WRNMMC played a major role in the decision to move her project.
“I have been doing this for Children’s National Medical Center for 10 years, and then I met a young woman who was my inspiration to do it,” Wolf said. “She was a military wife stationed in Germany and her son was diagnosed with leukemia. Mother and son were flown back to the States, praying for a miracle. Most of his treatment was at Walter Reed, before his family lost him months later.”
Wolf said that while Walter Reed’s medical staff is absolutely exceptional, they are a government entity and thus cannot solicit donations. As a result, there are not as many games and toys for sick children as there are at private centers, like National Children’s Medical Center.
“Regardless of the situation, we want the children to be able to laugh like children should, even when they are undergoing life-saving and likely uncomfortable procedures,” Wolf said. “My goal is to have enough toys to last a year for the children coming to the unit, for the children in the intensive unit, and children in the chemotherapy and hematology unit.”
Task Force Smile’s goal for NWRMMC starts with toys and ends with revamped patient rooms and playrooms.
“I want to redo the playroom,” Wolf said. “We have a local Alexandria artist who is nationally known and he has offered to help us put murals on the wall. We also want to put play stations in all the patient rooms and also in the pods where children get their infusions.”
She said that she plans to start “Task Force Smile” playroom renovations as soon as possible in 2014, and that other volunteers that have joined Task Force Smile will help make her this possible.
“As Americas Adopt A Soldier director of Task Force Smile, I will be joined by other volunteer members to work with the staff at WRNMMC to initiate the projects,” Wolf said. “We would love to make a real difference in 2014.”
She added that Task Force Smile will start its first project as soon as money is available, but she has her sights loosely set on the spring.
“I hope by spring we have collected enough money to start checking off our list,” Wolf said.
Wolf said she is confident that linking with America’s Adopt a Soldier will help her reach her goal to ultimately improve all critically ill military children’s hospital experiences. She said she can think of no better place to start her quest, either.
“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is the one hospital in the world that has the most advanced technology and treatments and all critically ill military children from around the country come to WRNMMC ,” Wolf said. “The playroom needs to be done right, and we will work as a recognized charity supporting WRNMMC to ensure it is the best possible environment for our military children.”
Keeser said America’s Adopt a Soldier was honored to accept Task Force Smile as part of the organization and to appoint Linda Wolf as director of Task Force Smile.
“Having known Linda for many years, and knowing how driven she is towards the success of her project, we were honored to embrace her project,” Keeser said. “We at America’s Adopt A Soldier are honored to embrace this most important project to ensure our critically Ill Military Kids receive a Toy – we collectively named the project: ‘Task Force Smile’ and to appointed Linda as the volunteer director of Task Force Smile. Our initial plans, under Linda’s leadership, are to develop distribution PODs for these toys within these clients, ensuring every critically Ill military child receives a toy through our year-round project.”
To contribute to this cause, visit www.americasadoptasoldier.org/ and click on “Make a Donation.” Note “Task Force Smile” on the purpose line.