Sheri Schrier is sadly no stranger to cancer. Years ago, she lost her younger brother, mother, father and grandmother to the disease, witnessing the physical pain and emotional trauma her family members endured as a result of sickness and chemotherapy.
“I needed to do something to uplift the spirits of cancer victims – especially the children,” said Schrier. “The hospital, the process, the entire experience can be so scary for kids. I wanted to come up with a way to bring some light into their lives.”
So the skilled hat maker, known for her beautiful designs and apparel in the golf and tennis industry, channeled her creativity and resources into a colorful, whimsical collection of hats for kids battling cancer, and all children spending time in the hospital for other life-threatening and various illnesses.
Happy Hats for Kids in Hospitals, based in Torrance, was born in 1991 and has since delivered over 830,000 hats and books to kids in LA County hospitals and throughout the country, even as far as Israel. The nonprofit is best known for its two core products: Hero Club and Happy Hat Holiday Programs.
The Hero Club Program provides each hospitalized child, upon admission, a gift package containing a colorful felt Hero Hat and a coordinating Hero Club bilingual, educational story/activity coloring book. The story helps the kids and their families learn together about hospital procedures in a gentle and humorous manner.
The Happy Hat Holiday Program delivers fun and colorful hats to hospitalized children unable to enjoy Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, 4th of July, Halloween, Chanukah and Christmas at home with their families. Each child, their siblings, family members and hospital staff receive a whimsical holiday-themed Happy Hat.
“It’s a heartwarming experience to see a sick child smiling,” said Schrier. “I was chatting with a mother of a child spending time in the hospital and the little girl hadn’t spoken a word in six months. When she received her little blue hat, she was so delighted – she lit up.”
To meet the delivery of nearly 30,000 hats a year, the Happy Hats organization relies on a diverse group of volunteers.
Schrier established a relationship with state and federal prisons, training inmates to help sew the hats, and she coordinates with developmentally disabled young adults to press, decorate and package them for shipment.
“This has been a wonderful opportunity for our special education kids to acquire new skills,” said Tim Smith, career education teacher with the Los Angeles County of Education. “Our students come twice a week and spend two hours at a time volunteering – we have a really solid crew, and the kids enjoy contributing and learning.”
Additionally, students, Girl Scout troops, corporations and senior citizens reach out to glitter, cut ornaments and add sparkle to hats throughout the year – all in a quest to bring smiles to children fighting cancer and other serious illnesses.
As the organization depends solely on monetary donations, Schrier and her small team of three continually reach out for donations and grants in order to continue serving all the children in 57 hospitals and expand to help kids in 100 hospitals nationwide.
“Happy Hats has brought joy to thousands of sick children throughout Los Angeles County, and across the world,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. “Now, especially around the holiday time, a bright smile and a colorful hat can really change a child’s life.”
To learn how to volunteer or donate funds to Happy Hats for Kids, visit www.happyhatsforkids.org or call (310) 787-0970.