While most may find entertainment through video games, 17-year-old Nicholas Priest uses them to give back.
A senior at Salesianium, Priest started the nonprofit organization Nick’s Power of Play (NPOP) halfway through his freshman year to bring fun, in the form of video games, to kids affected by serious illnesses.
The organization aims to bring joy to children who may be isolated in hospital rooms while seeking treatment for cancer or other illnesses, and Priest’s personal involvement hits close to home.
“My dad passed away when I was six. When he passed away, I lost my video game partner,” said Priest.
He recalls how his father would still make time to play games with him even during the worst of his bout with oral cancer.
After his father died, not having someone to play with became very lonely, he said.
“I don’t want that to ever have to be a reality for another kid,” said Priest.
The buddy system allows each kid to play with the same volunteers each time and create a deeper bond with their buddy.
Priest also created a Discord server, a digital platform for online communication, specifically for the organization to ensure that everyone would have a safe way to interact.
Popular games being used by the group include “Minecraft,” a world-building game, and “Fortnite,” a multi-player combat game.
“Normalization is a big goal for us with Child Life because the kids are here with some abnormal circumstances,” said Ezra Wittwer, a Child Activity Coordinator in the Child Life department at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “It’s really important for them to have that time carved out to do just normal things.”
Most children’s programs with the hospital are more general in scope and subsequently entertain younger kids more than the older ones. Nick’s organization provides an activity that can fit the interests of patients of any age depending on what games they enjoy, said Wittwer.
“We have one patient who has been regularly doing it and enjoying it,” they said.
Aside from fueling his love of gaming, the organization has given back to the volunteers just as much as the kids.
“Creating that connection has made me feel better. Without my buddy system, I wouldn’t have this awesome friendship,” said Priest “It’s just a fun hour. It’s like nothing else in the world matters.”
Kylie Moor, 17, is from Aston, Pa., and says the past year of volunteering has changed her more than she could have imagined.
“I just really wanted to make a difference in somebody’s life. I didn’t know it would also impact mine,” said Moor.
Through the buddy system, she established a great connection with her buddy and cultivated a real friendship, she said.
“It’s made me really grateful for what I have today,” said Moor. “We all have our own battles but their battles are very, very difficult. Even when I’m going through tough times, if I could have half the strength that these kids have, I’ll be OK.”
In just a short amount of time, Nick’s Power of Play has grown beyond Delaware’s state lines.
ChaiLifeline, an organization that helps families with children battling a deadly disease, has put NPOP in contact with kids across the country, increasing the volunteers’ access to kids in need and expanding the buddy system.
“The whole idea is about creating a connection with people,” said Priest. “I know there’s kids out there and I’m just trying to find them.”