It's four on a Friday afternoon at Hillside Elementary School in Needham, Massachusetts, and an art party is in full swing. Thirty second- and third-graders from the local Brownie troop, assisted by five high school sophomores, are drawing flowers, hearts, rainbows, peace signs and a menagerie of colorful creatures. One girl has sketched a fat orange pig, framed by the word "smile." The pictures are lighthearted, but their mission is serious. The illustrations will be used on clothing, ceramics and a line of hospital products (like cups, napkins, tray liners, bedding and scrubs) that will be sold to fund pediatric medical research.
Doling out the markers and crayons is Nancy Corderman, 49, cofounder of Kidz b Kidz (KbK), a national nonprofit organization that hosts these events in schools and hospitals. "The pictures you draw today will raise money to cure sick children tomorrow," she explains, as her partner, Jan Weinshanker, 64, shows off some of their playful goods. There are T-shirts with one-eyed monsters and kitties, baby clothes adorned with blossoms and butterflies, dinnerware painted with pandas and polka dots. All have hangtags showcasing artists' names and ages and a description of the company's mission. Every child has the opportunity to order T-shirts or bags featuring their artwork. Nancy and Jan then select designs for use on the items they sell to hospitals, schools, coffee shops and other establishments nationwide. "It's wonderful to watch their faces as they draw and begin realizing that they can make a difference in other children's lives," says Nancy.
It was Nancy and Jan's desire to do something meaningful that prompted them to start KbK in 2008 after working together for 15 years. As a home-based freelance textile designer, Nancy was hired to develop a line of tablecloths and rugs inspired by dinnerware patterns from Jan's ceramics company, Droll Designs. Though the items were profitable, "the work had no soul," Nancy says. Medical challenges during that time had them both rethinking their careers: Jan survived breast cancer, and two of Nancy's kids (Hannah, 17, and Tyler, 16) were diagnosed with significant hearing impairments as toddlers, requiring hearing aids and ongoing outpatient treatment at Children's Hospital Boston (CHB). Illness changed the women's lives but also helped them keep perspective. "It made me realize I wanted to make a difference," says Nancy. Even though she and her husband, David, 48, spent hours at a time at the hospital with their children, they always brought them home at the end of the day. "We felt sad for the families who didn't have that option.?