The Origination of Happy Wheels
By Audrey Morris, December 2001
Because she wanted to bring joy into children’s lives, Larissa Allison of Murrells Inlet started a program named “Happy Wheels” at MUSC’s Children’s Hospital in Charleston, SC in the spring of 1999. And on January 27, 2000, the Happy Wheels cart began making its rounds at MUSC. Reminiscing on the early stages of the venture, Larissa said: “When the idea was placed upon my heart, the program quickly sprang to life,”
In an interview, Larissa explained how it all came about: “One day my attention was diverted to a TV interview with a little boy who had leukemia but still wanted to help others through volunteer work. That was the turning point for me. God worked on my heart about it, and I promised that if he would open the door, I would walk through it. He did, and I did.”Stem cell transplant recipient Taylor Wilson and her mother Tammy select a game from the Happy Wheels cart while project coordinator
Larissa Allison looks on.
Cal and Julie Harrellson of Pawleys Island were Directors in the Happy Wheels program. Cal talked freely in a telephone interview about the children’s reactions when toy-time came around. He described scenes that he witnessed at the hospital when the cart made its appearance. “The cart is coming, the cart is coming,” chimed the children, he said. “It brings mixed emotions. It’s very touching to watch a child with no hair making his or her way to the cart in their mother’s arms. It is a bright spot during a bad time of their lives, and it reminds me of the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.” The doctors and nurses move quietly out of the way when they see the cart moving toward the rooms. It is incredible that Larissa and Jim started the project from scratch.”
How Happy Wheels, Columbia came to fruition
In June of 2009, Tracey Rankin, started following the updates of a friend, Jackie Shealy, on Facebook. Jackie is a former Program Director of Happy Wheels at MUSC in Charleston and her enthusiasm for the program was infectious. Questions were asked and Tracey’s interest in the Happy Wheels program began to mount. During a family vacation at Pawley’s Island in August, Tracey joined Jackie for “Happy Wheels Thursday” at MUSC. The rest, they say, is history. Upon returning to Columbia, she approached the local children’s hospital about the possibility of starting a chapter of Happy Wheels in Columbia. From that moment, everyone was on board. December 7th, 2009 marked the kickoff for Happy Wheels, Columbia!
How Happy Wheels, Greenville came to fruition
In 2010, Jeffrey Steen, a student and Teacher’s Assistant at the University of South Carolina, heard about Happy Wheels through his sister, Amanda. Amanda Steen is General Manager at Pawleys Front Porch, a very popular restaurant in Columbia which also supports Happy Wheels. He immediately wanted to help. He got his students involved and then became a hospital volunteer for Happy Wheels in July of 2011. Over the next few months, Natalie Anders who lives in Easley, heard comments and stories about the program through her siblings Jeffrey and Amanda . Natalie’s interest in the Happy Wheels program began to grow and she contacted Tracey, in Columbia, for more information. Natalie asked how she could help up in Greenville. Little did she know that Happy Wheels had already begun seeking expansion opportunities. Greenville Children’s Hospital made perfect sense! Again, the rest is history. After many discussions, Natalie was on board as the newest Program Director for Happy Wheels! The next step was talking with the hospital regarding their interest in housing the program. Again, everyone was on board! February 21st, 2012 marked the kickoff for Happy Wheels, Greenville!
Happy Wheels today!
Larissa’s efforts NOW continue to blossom and bring joy to the lives of children at local children’s hospitals in Columbia and Greenville and Charleston!
Each week at local children’s hospitals, volunteers push a cart loaded with new toys and books around the hospital’s inpatient floors, letting each child pick his or her favorite. A child’s smile, when reaching to pick out a gift, is all the reward the participating volunteers seek. The cart offers a free gift to all the children whose maladies include cancer, heart and lung diseases and numerous other problems.
Each gift is valued from $8-$16. So, to keep the cart filled and rolling takes lots of donations and volunteers. Each child receives one new book or toy each week for as long as they stay in the hospital. These funds are donated from individuals and small businesses.
The children wear bright smiles and happy faces as the cart appears and some of them jump off the bed and run to the cart in a burst of enthusiasm to pick their Happy Wheels gift.