Pillowcases for Smiles

By Dan Heaton

One day, 11 years ago, a woman was watching the Martha Stewart Show in her Macomb Township home. On the program Stewart was interviewing Cindy Kerr, a Pennsylvania mom who had started a small non profit organization to sew special pillowcases, with vibrant colors and kid-friendly themes, for her son, Ryan, and other children suffering from childhood cancers and illnesses.

“And something inside of me, right that very moment, just told me I knew what I needed to do,” said Sue Kosmas. “I had never run a nonprofit before. I am very fortunate that my children and my grandchildren are all healthy, but somehow, this just touched me in a way I couldn’t explain.”

That was about 48,000 pillow cases ago – and that’s just in the Detroit chapter that Kosmas has led since day one.

She tracked down Kerr after that TV show and the two woman talked about setting up a Detroit chapter. At the time, the nonprofit, now called Ryan’s Case for Smiles, didn’t have any chapters beyond its Philadelphia area home. Now, the group has gone national and hopes to distribute its two millionth pillow case later this year. In the meantime, Kosmas has become a familiar sight at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit and at other local hospitals.

“What makes the pillowcase so special is that the child gets to choose it,” Kosmas said. “We never just hand them out. A volunteer will go in to a child’s room at the hospital with a whole basket full of pillow cases, with all sorts of colors and designs. Some have super heroes on them, or an animal theme. And the child selects one for himself or herself. It may be the only choice that child gets to make that day. It is truly a feel-good moment.”

“We take making choices for granted in our lives. Something as simple as choosing his or her own pillowcase can really be a gift for a sick child,” Kosmas said.

Since its simple beginnings more than a decade ago, Kosmas has come to rely on a team of volunteers, even some who don’t know a thing about how to sew.

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