A generous nonprofit helps spread holiday cheer at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital

Marla Knoll and patient
UCLA Health Chase Child Life social worker Marla Knoll, center, and volunteer Marc Cohen help a patient select a gift for his caregiver at the annual Holiday Boutique in UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. (Photo by John McCoy/UCLA Health)

Christmas came a few days early — and with a twist — for the young patients in UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.

As they have done for a decade, the hospital’s Chase Child Life Program partnered with the nonprofit Connecting a Caring Community to bring joy to hospitalized kids with its annual Holiday Boutique event. 

With an abundance of gifts and decorations, they turned the hospital setting into a magical pop-up shop where the children donned Santa hats and got to add an extra dash of love and gratitude to the season by picking out special presents for their parents and caregivers. 

“This event is so empowering for these kids, who see the adults in their lives put aside so much of their own life to care for them,” said Kelli Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program. “Even the younger kids recognize this, and for them to come and pick out special gifts for the people who care for them 365 days of the year is so inspiring for them.”

The spirit of the event extended to those children who were not able to leave their beds or were hospitalized at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, who, with the help of technology and the compassionate medical staff, could virtually walk through the pop-up shop and select gifts.

“This event is about gratitude and giving back,” said Lisa Kodimer, co-founder and executive director of Connecting a Caring Community. “It’s a beautiful thing to see these children who are hospitalized come in with their nurses and walk around to shop to select gifts for their mother, grandmother, sister or dad. It gives the children a chance to express their gratitude, to give back to those who have given them so much. The Holiday Boutique, in its own unique way, embodies the true spirit of the holiday season — one of love, giving and reciprocal appreciation.”

Christine Banderas
Child Life specialist Christine Banderas (left) and Rick Baer, a board member of Connecting a Caring Community, help a patient shop for their caregiver through video chat. (Photo by John McCoy/UCLA Health)

A long-lasting partnership

The partnership between Mattel’s Chase Child Life Program and Connecting a Caring Community goes back more than a decade, when the couple who originally ran the event told Carroll they had to discontinue their involvement. Kodimer was in Carroll’s office at the time and told her friend not to worry.

“I told Kelli I owned a gift shop for over 17 years and this is my thing,” Kodimer said. “I told her we’re taking it over. My gift is connection and teaching people how to live with purpose.”

Kodimer’s gift was on full display as children made their way to The Child Life Zone area of the Mattel hospital and selected gifts for their caregivers and guardians. 

“It’s such an inspiration to see the way the children respond to the treatment of the staff and all of the child service personnel,” said Julie Choudhury, whose daughter, Luz, was among the young celebrants. “It encompasses what the holiday season is all about.”

“This event is like nothing else that happens for our patients,” Carroll said. “They get the experience of doing something for somebody else, and that’s so important for our patients. It’s so beautiful, and the parents are blown away by it.”

Kelli Carroll and Lisa Kodimer
(From left) Kelli Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program, joins Lisa Kodimer, co-founder and executive director of Connecting a Caring Community, and Phyllis Shinbane, associate program director of the nonprofit, at the Holiday Boutique pop-up shop. (Photo by John McCoy/UCLA Health)


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