As a child, Nick Priest loved to play video games with his father, Joe, who was a genius at all things technology and gaming. They started with Nick holding a controller and pretending to play, and moved on to Lego and Mario Galaxy games.
Joe was diagnosed with cancer when Nick was three years old, and after that, they played more than ever. The last time he went down to the basement to play, Joe was so weak he couldn’t even walk; he had to go down the stairs, step by step, on his butt, but it was worth it and the pair had a great time.
When he passed away, Nick was only six years old, but the boy not only lost his father, he lost his playmate. When friends or family visited him and played with him, he stopped thinking about his sadness and brought back happy memories of playing.
Nick told his mother then that no child should be without someone to play video games with. That’s when the Power of the game born.
He began working on the project as a freshman in high school at Salesianum School Wilmington, Delaware. Now a junior, he brings together teens to bring the “power of the game” (video games in particular) to children affected by cancer or other diseases.
At first, Nick recruited volunteers to go to the local children’s hospital, Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children, to play with the children one on one. Then came COVID-19, making in-person events impossible.
Determined to keep going, he raised $ 1,000 which he used to buy 2 Playstation 4 gaming systems and some controllers. Then he interviewed a girl who had been through childhood cancer and her mother, and they told her how isolated and lonely cancer treatment can be, even before COVID.
Nick learned that children in treatment are often unable to leave their rooms or are in isolation rooms, which means that even if there was a game system to play with, there would be no one to play with. And while most of these young patients have phones and tablets, they are generally not allowed to use the hospital’s WIFI to connect with each other for streaming and gaming.
He brainstormed to find a way that his volunteers could play with the children online and a way that the children at the hospital could play with each other. He told hospital officials about his idea and together they developed a system where the children on the floor can communicate with each other while playing.
“Hospitals have a lot of privacy laws and regulations,” Nick told GNN, “It took us a long time, but we finally got there!”
“No, video games don’t cure any disease, but as my dad used to say, ‘Laughter is the best medicine!'”
the Power of the game The team also helps those who have parents or siblings who are going through something difficult.
Realizing that there were children who were not in the hospital but could still benefit from video games, Nick and his NPOP volunteers developed a Buddy System. Parents reach out to NPOP and share their child’s games and other interests, and then Nick assigns one of his teen volunteers, like Kylie or Jack, both officers on the project (pictured above), to make it a friend, according to your interests. For example, you paired a boy who loved soccer with a college soccer player.
Children and their friends decide how often and when to play, but it is usually once a week or so. They connect and compete with each other and talk, they just connect and have fun.
The kids and friends are really enjoying it, so NPOP really wants to expand and reach as many kids as possible. Currently, they have more volunteers than children who want to play, because many teenagers want to help.
Nick asked GNN to encourage readers to reach out if they have a child or adolescent who could benefit from a playmate, and to spread the word to anyone NPOP can help. The NPOP website is nickspowerofplay.com and from there, parents can email and start the buddy process.
“If I can make the children smile and bring laughter to the hospital rooms, I will do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
Nick told GNN that he is “very close” to ending his 501c3 nonprofit, but established a GoFundMe page for anyone who wants to contribute to the purchase of more game controllers and systems.
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