Microsoft Empowers Patients through Gaming

Categories: Children's Miracle Network Hospitals
Microsoft Store Employees
Microsoft Westfarms employees are very enthusiastic about volunteering in the Family Resource Center. Pictured left to right: Jerry Brinson, Michael DePalma, Janette Cruz, Derek Brown, Carlos Luque.

When 12-year-old Youseff Shahine comes to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, he comes prepared to do battle because Microsoft empowers patients.

At one time, a couple of years ago, that battle would have been with osteosarcoma, but these days his opponents are on a virtual battlefield. Youseff is among the dozens of patients who attend the bimonthly “Game Night” at the United Technologies Family Resource Center at Connecticut Children’s. Game Night is hosted by Microsoft Store—Westfarms Mall.

Game Night at Connecticut Children’s

“On Game Night, Associates from the Microsoft Store come over, and they bring and set up Xbox One gaming consoles in the big classroom in the Family Resource Center,” says Kelsea Fortner, who is the Patient and Family Clinical Education Coordinator at the Family Resource Center. “They also bring in Surface Pros with Minecraft and an app called Fresh Paint, where kids can do these really cool, lifelike drawings and print them out.

“Microsoft Store Associates take the kids through an hour of coding workshop which teaches them how to code for Minecraft,” she added. “Inpatient families come down, and families that are on my email list come down just for this event, which is really cool because it’s more fun than coming in for a procedure or a checkup. It makes it a much more enjoyable experience coming to the hospital.”

A child draws on a Microsoft Surface Pro using the Fresh Paint app.

“It’s all about the kids and trying to normalize their experience in the hospital,” says Kelsea.

That’s something Youseff can appreciate. His visits to Connecticut Children’s used to be all business. “He had osteosarcoma, which is a bone cancer,” says his mother, Joumana. “But his case was one of the most successful ones because we caught the cancer early and started treatments immediately. He’s done the procedures and the treatments, and now we just do the regular examinations every three months. So far, he’s doing well.”

Joumana says that Youseff’s favorite games at Game Night are the world-building activities Minecraft and Fortnite. “At the game nights I hear him talking with other people,” she says, “and sometimes they play against each other, sometimes they play as a group.”

Engaging Kids & Communities

Microsoft employee helps children
Michael DePalma, Community Development Specialist at the Microsoft Store, assists patients and their siblings with coding and gaming activities.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. That starts at the local communities we engage with,” says Mike DePalma, the Community Development Specialist at the Microsoft Store. “At Microsoft Store we empower our local communities with in-store events as well as going to locations like we do for Game Night. One of the biggest programs we have is called ‘Give,’ which is focused on getting everyone across Microsoft to volunteer their time or make a small donation to an organization. I really try to get our team hands-on with volunteering.”

In addition to the gaming events they do at Connecticut Children’s, the Microsoft Store at Westfarms Mall hosts in-store events. “In October we did a four-night gaming tournament,” said Mike, “and all those funds benefited Connecticut Children’s. Our employees volunteered their time to set up and break it down, and the funds for those hours were also contributed to the hospital.”

Microsoft Gaming
A Microsoft employee looks on as a patient races a sports car through the virtual course.

But the store goes even further by hosting the monthly meetings of the Hartford Extra Life Guild. Extra Life is a fundraising program of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. It works like a charity road race but, the participants play games of various kinds, soliciting donations from friends and family. Connecticut Extra Life events benefit Connecticut Children’s, and the Guild is the group of people who organize those local events.

If Microsoft employees are at a gaming convention, they will work with Extra Life members to encourage convention participants to participate in Extra Life fundraising.

“I think it really gives our people a sense of impact,” Mike says of the Game Night events at Connecticut Children’s. “I know I’ve developed relationships with the kids and I think others have as well. It’s great to get to know these kids, to know what they like and don’t like, and to make a difference in their lives.”