The Hannah Peretsman Breene Foundation (the “Foundation”) was established in memory of a wonderful girl. Hannah died of cancer at age 16 in April of 2004. She was an honor student in high school, a theater buff, an aspiring chef and an avid reader. She was also strongly committed to community service. She was a junior volunteer at St. Barnabas Hospital, in Livingston, NJ, where she herself received most of her own treatment. She was also an active volunteer at a community food bank and an interfaith homeless coalition. Initially motivated by a 10 hour community service requirement at her high school, Hannah performed in excess of 75 hours of community service in 2002-03 while undergoing rigorous cancer treatments and continuing full-time in school.
The Foundation has been established to honor her interest in helping others. As its initial project, the Foundation has focused its efforts on assisting and supporting the Child Life Program at St. Barnabas. The Child Life program is run by hospital employees and receives funding from the hospital and from other charities. The professional staff of the Child Life Program only works week days. On weekends and evenings before the Foundation started its work in the fall of 2004, no activities were planned and the playroom was often locked and inaccessible to patients.
We have recruited and trained teen and adult volunteers to serve on evenings and weekends. Since November 2004, several hundred volunteers, adults and teens, including friends of Hannah’s, have given their time on a regular basis. Our volunteers supervise activities, and interact with patients in a friendly, supportive way. Each year, our volunteers provided about 1000 hours of organized games, crafts, cooking and other fun for hundreds of young patients on evenings and weekends. The Foundation uses funds that have been donated by friends, relatives, business associates, and classmates, as well as Hannah’s own college savings, to purchase the supplies and equipment for the activities that have been planned.
It is the overall mission of the Hannah Peretsman Breene Foundation to add a little bit of fun and distraction to children’s hospital stays. Based upon Hannah’s experience with many years of such hospitalizations, we believe strongly that the Foundation’s provision of interesting and varied activities for kids during their hospital stays will make those stays more enjoyable and, as a result, will make a difference in the patients’ outlook. Doctors, nurses, patients and their parents have been very enthusiastic and appreciative of the program that is organized, funded and run by the Hannah Peretsman Breene Foundation.
Despite the early success, the work of the Foundation continues and, in many respects, as just begun. We need to continuously recruit and train teen volunteers. Our first group, which included many of Hannah’s friends and class-mates, graduated from high school this past year and is now off at college. We are in the process of strengthening the program by organizing with several area high schools to assure a steady stream of new teen volunteers for the program. And, of course, we keep planning fun programs and entertaining special activities for patients who range in age from toddlers to teenagers.
With additional resources, we plan to expand the program’s hours and upgrade the activities we offer. We can become a model for others to emulate, so that in Hannah’s memory we can disseminate the program we’ve crafted to other children’s hospital facilities. And we can begin to truly institutionalize the program, hiring a part time Director to help manage our implementation – and our growth.
In 2016, the Hannah Peretsman Breene Foundation began funding a new initiative: a cooking program for children at the Newark Beth Israel Wellness Center. Dieticians teach children from the Newark community about healthy eating, through hands-on cooking lessons in “Hannah’s Kitchen.” We are excited to help kids in Newark and surrounding areas learn about nutrition, practice cooking skills that they can use throughout their lives and taste their delicious creations. Click here to see some of the “Hannah’s Kitchen” recipes.