Jocelyn Hebish, now a senior at Poly High School, started her own nonprofit to bring arts and craft kits to hospitalized children when she was in eighth grade. Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Hebish

As an eighth grader in the spring of 2020, Jocelyn Hebish was faced with a choice. Abruptly and indefinitely stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she needed a way to fill her extra time around the house.

So Jocelyn looked to her mother for inspiration to create a project that would showcase her creativity, while also helping others.

Before Jocelyn was born, her parents immigrated to Long Beach from Egypt, where her mom worked as an art teacher.

“I’ve always been a super crafty person. Me and her do crafts all the time,” Jocelyn said of her mom, Jehan Shahid. “And I wanted to combine something of that nature — something crafty, something artistic, for a greater cause. And I’ve also known that I want to do something in medicine, so Project Patient Pals kind of combined both of those things.”

That inspiration led Jocelyn to start her very own nonprofit — Project Patient Pals — with the mission of delivering craft kits to the patients of Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach. These kits would allow children to express themselves through crafting art, something that would help them create lasting memories for themselves and their families — all from their hospital rooms.

Jocelyn Hebish creates a kit for her nonprofit. Courtesy photo

Rita Goshert is the Director of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program at Miller’s, and has worked directly with Jocelyn over the past four years. She estimates that around 500 children and their families have been positively impacted over the years.

“The patients and families have enjoyed all of the different wonderful activities,” Goshert said. “They have helped to take their mind off of their illness and hospitalization; a great distraction tool and most importantly they have helped to bring smiles to the patients faces.”

After taking the initiative to start an LLC, then register the online domain name and completely design the Project Patient Pals website herself, Jocelyn brought the idea with her to high school.

Jocelyn Hebish recruites volunteers to build craft kits for her nonprofit, Project Patient Pals. Courtesy photo

Now a senior at Long Beach Poly, she’s in the highly-regarded PACE program, where she has recruited dozens of volunteers to help her create and deliver new craft kits every other month or so.

“I kind of just figured it out,” Jocelyn said of how she built up a nonprofit on her own. “My family is like a family of entrepreneurs, so I think we all sort of are very independent that way.”

She said she grew up helping out with her parents’ real estate and property management company, where her brother currently works. Her other brother started and sold his own legal business and is currently attending Columbia Law School.

As for Jocelyn, she has a clear picture of her future as she prepares to apply for colleges. She hopes to attend Stanford University or University of Sourthern California, but she’s also applied at a number of University of California campuses, and some East Coast schools like Brown University.

“I want to do global health,” she said of her college and career plans. “I want to study the intersection of public health and global health. I am really interested in minority inclusion within medicine and the legislative aspect of that as well within public health.”

Her interest in that field has been directly integrated into Project Patient Pals, as she’s been able to apply her knowledge toward offering crafts that are accessible to more patients. Jocelyn has ensured that the craft kids are safe for patients with latex allergies, or have other sensitivities related to their medical conditions.

She has also prioritized originality in her crafts to create unique and entertaining experience for the children she works with.

“We’ve done stress balls, friendship bracelets, we’ve done DIY garland kits that they can make to hang up in their room,” she explained. “We’ve also done dream jars, where they decorate a jar and then we give them a bunch of slips of paper for them to write down their dreams and their goals, that sort of thing … We try to keep them more original versus a traditional craft kit, because I think it’s interesting to keep variety.”

With the help of her classmates and fellow volunteers from school, she creates the craft kits with all supplies and instructions included. The kits are then delivered to Miller Children’s Hospital self-contained and ready to go for patients.

“Project Patient Pals activities are very well thought out and perfect for different developmental levels of patients too,” Goshert said. “They have everything needed to complete the activity, which makes things much easier for my staff.”

While the activities provide a needed distraction for patients, they also include a personal touch from volunteers who prepare each kit. Each kit includes a hand-written note with the volunteer’s name, grade and some of their hobbies and interests, along with their phone number. This has allowed patients and volunteers to form meaningful connections beyond the crafts they create.

“A big part of Project Patient Pals was to nurture friendships between our volunteers and these patients,” she explained. “So if the person who ended up receiving the craft bag that (the volunteer) made, they could send them a text, or give them a call anytime they were bored or just wanting to talk to a friend.”

Jocelyn hopes to establish another chapter of Project Patient Pals wherever she ends up for college, but also wants to see the original continue to grow in her hometown. She’s decided to hand down the responsibility of Project Patient Pals to an underclassman at Poly, in order to maintain the relationship with Long Beach Memorial and Miller’s.

To learn more about Project Patient Pals and to support their work, visit their website here.