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Friday, May 24, 2024

UC Davis’ Princess Pals brings magic into local children’s lives

Club officers share memorable experiences and give insight into how the organization works

 

By SABRINA FIGUEROA — features@theaggie.org 

 

Everyone needs a little light and magic in their life, especially kids. But that can be difficult to achieve for children who live under difficult circumstances such as being hospitalized with a critical illness or living in a shelter.

“Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD and depression, affect at least one in 10 U.S. children hospitalized for a medical condition or surgical procedure,” the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states. 

When a child is staying in a shelter, they are also more likely to develop anxiety and depression symptoms during their childhood and adolescence. 

Princess Pals, an organization at UC Davis, is set up with the intention of bringing that magic and light into the lives of children who face these difficulties mainly by dressing up as beloved Disney princesses and princes. They also host activities for the children.

Daphne Mora, vice president of Princess Pals and third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, commented on the purpose of their organization. 

“[Princess Pals] aims to raise children’s spirits and create lasting experiences through art, overall fun, playing games, making crafts and participating in activities where the children elicit creativity and friendship,” Mora said. 

Mora also explained that, along with their goal of helping children, they also aim to give UC Davis students the opportunity to be a part of a student-run organization that gives back to the local community by volunteering with children. 

The club currently makes visits to hospitals, shelters and schools an average of four times per quarter. However, the actual amount of visits varies each quarter, with the most visits occurring in the spring and fall. 

President of Princess Pals, Annika Zamora, a fourth-year design and Chicana and Chicano studies double major, described how the club arranges visits to children.

“We have an ongoing list that we’ve collected over the years as a club with [institutions’] contact information,” Zamora said. “About a month before each quarter, [the outreach coordinator] will send out emails to different places asking, ‘Is there some time that’s good for a visit that works for you guys during this quarter?’”

Recently, Princess Pals visited Kaiser Permanente in Roseville and Saint John’s Program For Real Change, a women and children’s shelter, in Sacramento. These are also the places that they visit most often.

In a club that emphasizes acting, the most important part is their members. Fall quarter is an important time for their recruitment because of the UC Davis Involvement Fair that happens every year, according to Zamora. 

However, Princess Pals does not limit when students can join — new members can get involved during any quarter. In fact, the club doesn’t require their new members to fill out an application or have prior acting or volunteer experience. 

“No prior experience is required, it’s more so we have our own requirements that can be completed once you join,” Mora said. 

All members are required to sign a “costume contract” that asks the student to acknowledge that they are responsible for their costume during the time that it’s in their hands. They are also required to complete a shadowing shift that requires going to an event as a helper. New members are also required to attend a workshop in order to see what costumes they fit into and if they know how to do makeup. 

“We’re not too strict on the makeup because we understand that there are some people that either can’t afford makeup or just don’t know how to do it,” Mora said. “In either case, we can help them or it’s also optional, but highly encouraged.” 

Valeria Ramirez-Leng, Princess Pals treasurer and third-year human biology major, also clarified that not everyone who joins the club has to dress up. 

“If you just want to be a part of the club, feel free to sit in any of our meetings,” Ramirez-Leng said. “If you do want to dress up, you would have to do all of the requirements.”

There are also roles for everyone, including those who aren’t too keen on acting. Volunteers can choose to dress up and act as princesses or princes at events, but they can also choose to be helpers who assist the actors and also do activities with the kids. 

Once people become members, their choices are not restricted in any way as long as the costume fits them, allowing students to dress up as different princesses or princes every single visit.

As volunteers, members can gain rewarding work experience that adds to their motivation for continuing the club’s important efforts. 

“One time, I dressed up as Moana and we had an event at the Graduate Center for the kids of graduate students,” Mora said. “At the beginning, some kids will be a little shy while others will immediately run up to us, but I think little by little they all open up and it’s such a beautiful moment. Specifically, I remember two toddlers that would grab me by the hand and pull me to different places trying to show me things, and I thought it was so adorable.” 

Zamora also shared an experience she cherishes. 

“One of my most memorable memories was my first time dressing up, and I dressed up as Cinderella at a daycare event for graduate students,” Zamora said. “We did bracelet making back then, and there was this one little girl who was like, ‘I made a bracelet for you,’ and I was like, ‘No, I can’t take your bracelet! You keep it, that’s so sweet!’ I just couldn’t do it, and she didn’t want to leave. It was so adorable.”

These stories are not unique to only the members who dress up and act. Helpers who attend events also have similar experiences.

“I remember my first year, I went as a helper and there was this little girl that just kept being next to me and stood by me the entire time, it was really sweet. At the end, she drew me a little picture, and I still have the picture up in my room in Davis,” Ramirez-Leng said. “It’s little things like that that stick with you. You don’t even have to be dressed up, the kids just enjoy that you’re there.” 

Even though the circumstances these children live with are emotionally heavy, the volunteers attempt to work through it with them and are happy to do so. 

“Knowing that you can bring them just a little bit of joy, I think helps to keep us going and have a smile on our face,” Zamora said. “It’s meant to be a special experience for them, so you kind of take how you feel out of it just to give them a little bit of joy.”

During the spring, Princess Pals will have their meetings from 7 to 8 p.m. on Mondays starting the second week of the quarter and continuing every other week. More of Princess Pals and their work can be seen on their Instagram, @ucdprincesspals, and they can also be reached through their email, princesspalsatucd@gmail.com. New members are always welcome, and everyone who volunteers can help make a difference in the lives of children in the local community. 

 

Written by: Sabrina Figueroa — features@theaggie.org

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