New York City

Michele Hall Duncan Leading the Way in Humanizing Healthcare for Hospitalized Children

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Event season is back, and we couldn’t be anymore excited! It is always great to cover the New York City events and highlight the work of the many charities that are doing a great job raising funds and awareness for those that are in need. We had the opportunity to sit down with Michele Hall Duncan, President & CEO of enCourage Kids Foundation.  We certainly love covering their events throughout the year and we look forward to covering the enCourage Kids 37th Annual Gala on Wednesday, May 11.

Social Lifestyle: How great that events are back and the enCourage Kids Foundation has a 37th Annual Gala coming up on May 11 at Cipriani South Street.  Can you tell us what the night has in store for the guests?

Michele Hall Duncan: We are so excited to be planning our in-person Gala on the 11th. We have over 400 guests expected, the food is going to be amazing, and we are thrilled to be holding it at Cipriani South Street, which is truly one of the most beautiful event venues in the city. This is going to be a particularly special evening for us because we are honoring the legacy of our late board director, Jay Anderson of The Feil Organization, who passed away last year. We have a special tribute planned and are posthumously awarding him with our Jeffrey Gural Leadership Award, named after our Board Chairman Emeritus, which recognizes outstanding individuals who reflect Jeff’s humanitarian and philanthropic values and who are committed to bringing joy to children and their families. 


Social Lifestyle: The funds raised from the night will support which program?

Michele Hall Duncan: Well, Jay was a huge supporter of our cornerstone program, the Pediatric Hospital Support Program (PHSP), so proceeds from the Gala will fund that program, which we are renaming the Jay Anderson Pediatric Hospital Support Fund in his honor.


Social Lifestyle: Can you tell us a little about Jay Anderson and how he supported the enCourage Kids Foundation?

Michele Hall Duncan: Jay had a heart of gold and the best sense of humor. He served on our board of directors for 20 years and more recently, on our Chairman’s Circle. He really loved our Pediatric Hospital Support Program and the impact it has on elevating the level of care our hospital partners are able to provide. Since 1996, PHSP has provided more than $16 million in funding for projects and programs such as creative therapies, pet therapy, playroom renovations, and technology for distractive entertainment and education on diagnoses—many of which would not be funded at all without our support. We are thrilled to have this opportunity at our Gala to engage with our donors and pay tribute to the invaluable contribution Jay made to our organization and the impact his support will have for years to come.


Social Lifestyle: Have you seen a difference with the hospitals and support staff since COVID is almost behind us?

Michele Hall Duncan: Most of our partners are no longer in crisis mode, which is a huge relief, but for many, the effects of the pandemic may have changed, but the impact is still being felt and has far-reaching effects. We have seen a significant shift in their focus to addressing the mental health challenges and anxieties children are facing right now because of the pandemic. With so many interactions occurring in the virtual space, kids were missing out on the social and mental benefits that come with attending school and social interactions. Remote learning especially amplified disparities that previously existed in underserved communities and minority populations. The National Institute of Mental Health says that suicide is the second leading cause of death between the ages of 10 and 20. That statistic is staggering and disturbing. Hospitals are struggling to meet new and varied needs as a result.


Social Lifestyle: What have you been doing lately with the foundation to support the hospitalized children?

Michele Hall Duncan: The pandemic has kept us busy. We partner with more than 300 hospitals nationwide including 130 in the NYC Metro area. Our focus from the beginning was to step in and help the communities that were inundated, providing the support and critical resources they uniquely needed, when they needed it. Our relationships with the child life community put us in a unique position to be the organization they reach out to when they need help. With one of the stark realities to come to light this past year being the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and social development of children, we’re working with our hospital partners to address these needs. Thanks to funding from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, we’re working on implementing a program to provide pediatric patients with customized activity kits we call Mental Health Comfort Kits designed specifically to address some of the special needs of this growing population including teens at risk for self-harm. Through our social media and fundraising campaigns, we’ve been working to shed a light on some of the challenges our pediatric partners are facing in addressing an increased need in mental health services, and to amplify the work enCourage Kids is doing to provide support and resources. 


Social Lifestyle: Since we are coming off Autism awareness month, how do the enCourage Kids Programs play a role in those children hospitalized who are autistic?

Michele Hall Duncan: We’re finding that many of our hospital partners are looking for resources to help this population of children which has increased significantly in the last few years. Last year, through our Pediatric Hospital Support Program, we funded a Sensory-informed Care Task Force at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans that provides Sensory-Informed Care Kits for all their pediatric units and off-site clinics. The kits contain different sensory items to which kids with those needs have an affinity, that help to calm them and help them have a better hospital experience. We funded that project because the new child life director there discovered the hospital served a particularly large population of children with autism and other related disorders, but there was a disparity in what they were providing to them versus other children in their care. Feedback from the child life staff and parents has been incredibly positive. Parents and family members are so surprised and grateful that the hospital has the exact kinds of tools to help their children through an often traumatic and anxiety-laden experience.


Social Lifestyle: What would you like to see from the guests at the upcoming gala?

Michele Hall Duncan: We’re really looking forward to engaging with our donors after having to cancel our 2020 Gala and not being able to hold one in 2021 because of the pandemic. There will be a mix of both new and long-time donors in attendance, and we feel that it’s so important to provide them with opportunities to feel connected to the mission. We think the event program we have planned will do that.


Social Lifestyle: In what ways can our readers get involved with the organization?

Michele Hall Duncan: The best way to learn more and get involved is to visit our website and follow us on social media so you can see the children we serve and the ways we are partnering with hospitals across the country. Look at the critical programs we are funding and see what interests you. If you are in the New York City area, consider volunteering or joining our Young Professionals Board. 


Social Lifestyle: Are you still planning to host the enCourage Kids Annual Golf event and Serving Up Smiles this year?

Michele Hall Duncan: Yes! We are really looking forward to holding our Golf Outing and Serving Up Smiles events in person again this year! Serving Up Smiles is taking place on October 18th at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, a beautiful waterfront space with views overlooking the Hudson River. Since we began the event 7 years ago, it has grown into one of our most anticipated events. Our vision is to bring together some of the best chefs and restaurants the city has to offer. We will also have excellent wineries represented and handcrafted cocktails. It will be a wonderful opportunity for our community to support the work of enCourage Kids Foundation and to sample food from some of the city’s finest dining establishments while enjoying live music and an exciting silent auction. Our Annual Golf Outing is taking place on Monday, July 18th at the Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Now in its 19th year, the event draws participants from construction, utility, engineering, building maintenance and service industries which comprise the backbone of the real estate industry. We’ll be sharing details on our website and social media channels for both events as we get closer to the dates so stay tuned!


Social Lifestyle: Thank you for speaking with us and we look forward to seeing you at the Gala.

Michele Hall Duncan: My pleasure and see you there!


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