In order to honor her husband, a prominent Broadway theater director and producer, and to bring joy to chronically ill children she got to know through her previous volunteer work, Dena Hammerstein founded Only Make Believe in New York, New York. The now 15-year-old non-profit creates and performs interactive theater for children in hospitals and care facilities who are too sick to venture out into the streets of New York City and Washington D.C.. Only Make Believe is dedicated to the principle that freeing a child’s imagination is a valuable part of the healing process, and Dena is determined to touch as many lives as possible.
In general, the organization sends a team of professional actors into hospitals to perform original, interactive plays with the kids. The children dress up, play roles, and become the stars of every show that is produced. The plays are performed against a simple backdrop with a trunk filled with costumes and props used by all. The painted trunks, all different and all painted by the volunteers, stay in the hospitals as a permanent gift to be enjoyed by all long after the actors have finished their performances.
Now aided by thousands of volunteers, Only Make Believe has successfully touched the lives of more than 35,000 children through engagement in over 50 hospitals, and, by extension, their parents, who see their kids participating and enjoying themselves. Additionally, the nonprofit brings life into the hospitals and gives staff a unique opportunity to expand upon their relationships with the children by interacting and participating in the excitement.
The children that Only Make Believe serves constantly face overwhelming challenges. They struggle with physical and emotional pain while often feeling isolated from their peers and families. Through Only Make Believes interactive shows, the group gives children the change to laugh, play, hope, and imagine while helping them additionally rebuild their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Dena has always been dedicated to share the magical joy of theater with children in hospitals and care facilities. Even after 15 years of production, the organization is still fully booming and Dena is still 100% engaged. If you are personally inspired by Dena’s story, read more here https://www.onlymakebelieve.org/donate/ on how you can become more involved in her mission or even attend a show!