Orange County

Botanical Garden brings the outdoors indoors to hospitalized kids

With butterfly nets in hand, children towing along IV poles were granted an escape from hospital walls this week.

A butterfly extravaganza transformed an otherwise blue-gray room into a cascade of nature and color hanging from the ceiling, with children rotating around arts and crafts tables and learning activities.

Wonder Connect, the N.C. Botanical Garden’s outreach program, offered a door to the outside for patients at the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

Destiny Hunt, on her first full day at the hospital, came wearing a left shoulder splint. The butterfly catching station, which focused on butterfly migration, brightened her calm, quiet demeanor.

At the station, two toys shot paper butterflies up into the air as children with nets tried to catch as many as they could.

Hunt’s mother, Crystal Oxendine, initiated a little competition between her daughter and another girl. The two raised their nets upward, both laughing and stumbling along the way.

“It’s good for them to be able to get out of their room and interact with other kids, instead of just seeing nurses, doctors and your parents,” Oxendine said.

John Ross, strategy consultant with Wonder Connect, stood watch at the butterfly catching station. He laughed each time a child managed to catch a butterfly in their net.

“It’s good to see the end product of the stuff we do day to day,” he said. “It’s neat to have an experience like this for us with patients we actually get to see.”

At one station the WonderSphere allowed children to place their hands in two rubber gloves to interact with plants and insects inside a large plastic chamber.

Katie Stoudemire, program manager for Wonder Connect, says the primary goal was allowing children to safely interact.

“For kids who have compromised immune systems,” she said, “They can’t be around anything from nature. We wanted them to have that opportunity.”

Children and their parents came from their rooms around noon, stepping through a cleaning station where each person washed their hands before entering the display. Beginning with a plant scavenger hunt, a short hallway of plants and butterflies hanging from the ceiling led families to a painting station.

Children were asked to paint just one side of a large butterfly wing, then the wing was folded to create a mirrored side. Each butterfly painted and decorated was then hung in the light on a window, sending streaks of red, green and yellow across nearby tables.

“I think for all of us it’s a wonderful way to more closely connect with the patients,” said Brian Hunter, assistant director with Wonder Connect’s strategic planning team. “Certainly, for us, it’s a nice opportunity to give back to the hospital and the organization we all work for.”

For those unable to leave their rooms for the extravaganza, Stoudemire says to-go kits would include a butterfly to decorate, a butterfly scene, a scratch-off butterfly activity and a little toy butterfly.

In addition, Stoudemire says the WonderSphere and the caterpillars on display “will go on tour.”