DENVER -- Rockies manager Bud Black found himself thinking of one of the simple joys that could make a tough time easier.
“A coloring book crosses all age brackets, right?” he said.
To a child dealing with serious illness, a coloring book is an important part of healing -- and these days, that kind of healing is in high demand. Thanks to a $10,000 donation from Black and his wife, Nan, to River + Pearls, a nonprofit based in Fort Collins, Colo., kids at many hospitals will receive the popular "My Journey" coloring book, which was designed as art therapy for children who may be weakened from treatment.
River + Pearls’ founder and president Christina DiMari, Nan Black’s sister, found the group overwhelmed with demand for the book because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The books, which are produced by Citizen Printing at Fort Collins, have been distributed to 151 hospitals nationwide already, but demand keeps growing.
As of Wednesday afternoon, close to 50,000 books -- including the print run that the Blacks’ contribution helped make possible -- have been donated. The Blacks’ donation covered Colorado and Wyoming, which are in the Rockies’ market territory.
The hope is the Blacks’ gift will spark other managers, players or figures in baseball -- or other walks of life -- to make similar donations that would take care of various cities and states across the country. More information and background is available at https://riverandpearls.org/.
DiMari noted that children’s hospitals deal with overwhelming demands all the time. But to her surprise, the myriad of safety precautions complicated even as simple a proposition as a coloring book.
“Right away, of course to protect the children, everything was locked down, so all the play rooms are closed, the art therapy rooms are closed -- very tight restrictions on visitors,” DiMari said. “The kids that are already going through a hard time, [and] all of a sudden they don't have an outlet to be able to even leave their room, or have any interaction with anybody except for one parent -- in most of the hospitals, one parent is allowed in.”
Those conditions led to hospitals locally and across the country to request the special coloring book, which has its own backstory.
At age 15, Morgan Sallier lost her 10-year-old sister, Jordyn, to leukemia. Morgan watched as her sister battled. During that time, many well-wishers gave coloring books to Jordyn. However, she was often too weakened from the disease and treatment to complete them.
Through the grieving process, Morgan took weekly “healing art” sessions for River + Pearls, which lists as its mission “to cultivate hope, healing and growth in the hearts and lives of children and youth through the resources we create and retreats we offer.”
At 17, Morgan melded her therapy with what she learned from her sister’s struggle.
She developed a book that opened to easy-to-complete coloring pages with simple messages on the right and a mostly blank page on the left that asked the child to express thoughts and emotions.
“It took her about six months, you know, to play around with a lot of different ideas, and when we were ready, I published,” DiMari said of Morgan, who is studying at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and is working on projects with the school’s vice president.
Even before COVID-19, Citizen Printing realized the books were potentially going to children with infection concerns.
“They print them, cut them, compile them, shrink wrap them, put them in boxes, take them up and ship them to the hospital, on purpose, because we don't want any hands touching them in normal times,” DiMari said.
Word got around, and hospitals trying to take special precautions now are requesting “My Journey” to the point that River + Pearls was quickly overwhelmed. DiMari spoke to Bud and Nan Black, and their help was immediate.
“Nan’s background is in pediatric nursing and pediatric care, and also Nan’s post-pediatric career path took her into infectious disease with a renowned infectious disease doctor here in San Diego, so she was doing a lot of case studies,” Black said. “MRSA [infection] was sort of big and it’s still out there. This connection with kids and hospitals has always been close to us.”
Touched by the situation, Black read an email from a children’s hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., which said that the books are, in part, “akin to someone throwing us a little raft during a time when we feel like we're barely staying above water.”