A royal welcome at Helen Devos: Students entertain patients as Disney characters

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

GRAND RAPIDS — Prince Charming was spotted singing with Cinderella among patients at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on Wednesday.

Along with these two Disney characters were Ana, Ariel and Belle – who were all portrayed by St. Joseph and Lakeshore high school students.

The five students performed songs from their favorite movies to some of the hospital’s patients, while also taking the time to meet with them and answer questions as Disney royalty.

Mariah Rifenberg (Ariel), Lauren Kunkel (Ana), Leo Carmody (Prince Charming), Maddie Schrock (Cinderella) and Taylor Hule (Belle) pose for a photo Wednesday in the halls of the Helen Devos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids. (Contributed photo)

Mariah Rifenberg, Lauren Kunkel, Leo Carmody, Maddie Schrock and Taylor Huie pose for a photo in the halls of the Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. (Contributed photo)

Taylor Huie, who went as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” organized the event with some of her friends at the Grand Rapids hospital.

The idea for the event came when Huie – who will be a SJHS senior in the fall – shadowed pediatric surgeon James DeCou. Hearing that she performed along with her other friends, DeCou helped Huie set up the event at the hospital, which drew patients and guests.

“Their hospital is all about making sure their kids get the best experience as possible,” Huie said. “It took us a couple months in getting the costumes, figuring out the time we could come in.”

Leo Carmody, a junior at Lakeshore High School, depicted Prince Charming from the movie “Cinderella.” Carmody was asked by Huie to be one of the Disney characters and said the experience was incredible.

“We were a little nervous because we didn’t have everything put together,” he said. “Some of the girls who were there to watch us had the characters on their shoes. We relaxed after seeing how happy they were.”

The group of five, which included Mariah Rifenberg (Ariel), Maddie Schrock (Cinderella) and Lauren Kunkel (Ana), sang their character’s songs and made bottles with glitter that they referred to as “fairy dust.”

After the two-hour performance, the prince and princesses stayed behind and signed autographs as their characters.

“Some of the kids wanted to talk with us when we were done,” Carmody said. “They asked us what kingdom we were from and how we got here. They all seemed to forget that they were in a hospital. Seeing such genuine reactions is something I’ll remember for a long time.”

In the act

Each Disney princess had a main song, but they rarely have a solo number.

In movies, the princesses usually sing group numbers. So, Huie and the others looked for an alternative by sifting through Disney musicals to find suitable songs.

Ana, who was a character from “Frozen,” proved to be the most popular among the children. Huie said it was because the movie was so recent to everyone there. However, Huie said she chose as Belle because she too grew up with her nose in a book.

“When I was very little, I idolized Belle and was given the opportunity to go to Disney World,” Huie said. “I know some kids aren’t given the opportunity to go down there, so being able to bring Disney to them was an amazing feeling.”

The car ride back from Grand Rapids was filled with Disney music and discussions about the children who were clamoring for their autographs. All five students are involved in musical theater and a few have portrayed some iteration of their character in past productions.

Carmody was Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid” showing at the Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac.

Since the performances were well received by the hospital’s administrative staff, the students were invited back to the hospital at Christmas.

“We were talking about trying again in a few more months as well, maybe with a few more characters at the children hospital in Ann Arbor,” Carmody said. “It doesn’t take much for us to perform and it’s a win for all of us if we can make someone happy.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 10, 2016)

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