Child Life staff create unforgettable night for teen patients

two teenagers in prom dresses

Teen patients get the red carpet treatment as they walk to the 2019 teen formal.

Amid the excitement and anticipation that precedes the annual Teen Formal for patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Child Life Director Shawn Brasher pauses briefly to consider his favorite aspect of the event before the guests arrive.

Earlier in the day, teens were pampered with salon treatments—hair, make-up and nails. In just a few minutes, 150 patients and their guests will showcase glamorous dresses and snazzy tuxedoes as they walk the red carpet in elegant style. The Child Life team encourages St. Jude employees and parents to take their places along a red carpet and cheer on patients and their dates.

“The red-carpet walk is definitely my favorite part of the event,” Brasher said as limousines pull up outside the hospital’s Danny Thomas/ALSAC Pavilion. “The teens come walking out in style, and the spotlight is on them. It’s the perfect beginning of this special night.”

The teens will ride through downtown Memphis before the limousines drop them off at the Domino’s Event Center on the St. Jude campus, home of this year’s event.

White lights strung over the dance floor create the effect of a large circus tent, echoing the event’s theme of “Under the Big Top.” A DJ spins tunes which draws an eager crowd to the dance floor. During a break, attendees snap selfies and enjoy snacks while watching three aerialists perform splits, somersaults and backbends using hoops and silk ropes.

While the magic only lasts an evening, the annual bash creates unforgettable memories for patients, parents and Child Life staff.

One of the most rewarding things for employees is seeing everyone have a good time. When parents arrive at the end of the evening, they are delighted to learn how much fun their children had.

“Some of the parents are moved to tears because they are so happy that their kids got to have this normal experience,” said Child Life Specialist Clare Gardner, who served as the lead for this year’s event. “It’s so amazing to see these kids smile and have a great time.”

Teen Formal is one of several events Child Life coordinates to provide patients with a sense of normalcy during their treatment while they miss important milestones at home. Months of planning precede the event, which began in 2007. Child Life staff meet to discuss the theme, preparations and how best to collaborate with other departments to ensure a successful and enjoyable night.

A week before Teen Formal, Dressfest and Tuxfest events allow patients to experience another milestone moment by selecting the perfect formalwear for the occasion.

“This event really is a group effort, and the event’s success illustrates the hard work done each year by different teams and the wonderful resources we have here at St. Jude,” said Child Life Specialist Katie Greer, who served as event lead last year.

From lining the red carpet to providing event support, employees have a central focus when it comes to Teen Formal.

“We all work together for the reason that we come here to work each day—to see these patients experience the joy and carefree spirit of being a teenager,” Brasher said.

About the Author

Mike O’Kelly
Mike O’Kelly is a member of the Communications Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.