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Santa and His Helpers Spread Holiday Cheer to Kids in Hospital
BY JOANNE BUGG AND SARAH WINCHESTER · CONNECTED SANTA PROGRAM MANAGERS · U.K.
What is an elf to do when there’s so much to organize? So many toys to get ready for Santa!
Call for elf reinforcements, that’s what! And that’s exactly what we do every year for Connected Santa.
Starting in June, we volunteer about 70 hours on average each year — on top of our Time2Give — preparing for and managing the Connected Santa program. Yes, June! It’s quite an operation and takes a lot of planning:
- Build Santa’s “Grotto”
- Plan more than 10 hospital visits
- Recruit more than 100 volunteers
- Set up the gift list
- Secure donations
- Sort and dispatch hundreds of presents
- Register hospital charities
Our list goes on, and we certainly need to check it twice — all before we can even think about any details of our live events with Santa and the children.
As the not-so-well-known saying goes, “Many elves make light work.”
We are extremely grateful to our extensive team of more than 100 cheeky elves across the U.K., who bring numerous skills to the program to make it work — literally, when it comes to our fabulous team of SEs and IT experts. Many of them must love the program as much as we do because they return year after year. This is our eighth year at the helm.
If you’re not familiar with the program, here’s how it works. We use our Collaboration technologies to connect Santa in his “Grotto” — Bedfont Lakes, a.k.a. the North Pole — to sick children in hospitals. This not only keeps reindeer fuel costs to a minimum, it also means that Santa can visit more children in more hospitals during one week than he otherwise might, without even leaving his fireside armchair.
A video link from the North Pole to each hospital allows Santa to have quality 1:1 chats with about 300 children over five days. Here’s where the magic comes in: A hospital-based elf uses Cisco Webex Teams chat to feed information to a “Santa Sitter” in the Grotto. This way, Santa can secretly find out each child’s name, age, and what they’d like for Christmas before he meets them.
Last week, Santa virtually met a young 6-year-old boy named Paras. All-knowing, Santa greeted him by name as he entered the room, and a bemused smile appeared on little Paras’ face. He shyly said hello to Santa and sat quietly on his red chair in the hospital playroom.
“You’d like a computer for Christmas this year, wouldn’t you, Paras?” Santa asked. A pause. Paras looked up at Santa. “You got my letter!” Paras exclaimed with a grin. The conversation rolled on merrily from there. It was priceless.
Another time, Santa met a rather poorly young girl named Sophie. She was fairly unresponsive. Santa sang carols to Sophie and told a few light jokes to her, her family, and the nearby hospital staff, to help keep spirits up.
After a while, much to everyone’s surprise, Sophie joined in, in her own way. The ward’s Lead Consultant came to speak to the Cisco team afterward. They explained that this had been the greatest response that anyone had seen from Sophie in weeks. Tears followed from all onlookers. Our small contribution had a significant impact: It brought hope.
Since Connected Santa started in the U.K. in 2006, Santa has virtually winged his way to 90 hospitals, handed out 4,000 gifts donated by Cisco employees (totaling about £30,000), and made 3,000 children smile. More than 600 active volunteers have helped support these community efforts.
Matched funding has been possible for several hospitals — in the form of a £750 donation — a significant amount for underfunded hospitals to put to good use. It’s not only in the U.K. that we’re making a difference. Connected Santa is active in Ireland, Canada, South Africa, and the U.S., with potential to roll out also next year in Germany, France, Spain, and Sweden.
That’s what keeps us, and many of our volunteers, hooked — year after year.
More about Connected Santa
There are six Connected Santa roles that Cisco employees can volunteer to play: Santa, Mrs. Claus, Elf, Santa Sitter, Box Packer, and Technical Support.
For job specs, dozens of photos (including “elfies”), a snapshot of our social media presence, and more program information in general, employees can visit our Connected Santa Community.
We want to thank everyone who helps support this amazing program. The pure joy these events bring to a hospitalized child at a difficult time makes a huge difference and is humbling for everyone involved.
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