As we near the end of 2019, we want to update all of our friends, families, colleagues, and all who help support and make the work we do every day possible.
In Streetlight, our focus is not merely to extend support to our patients, but to encourage a community of empowerment where people going through chronic illness can harness their inner wisdom and strength, and offer that to each other.
Our patients are our greatest teachers—they are the ones who live through life’s greatest challenges and emerge with lessons, unexpected gifts, to share with those around them. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and Psychiatrist, writes in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, that “the meaning of life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.” Who better to help those to see the meaning in adversity than those who are currently experiencing the adversity?
Since the beginning of the program, we have created space for patients to meet and build connections through our Teen Lounge, a place reserved for adolescent patients in the evenings. However, not all patients can leave their rooms, thus we were challenged with a way to bridge this gap and facilitate patient connections—a way for people living through illness and healing to know that they are not alone. As one cancer survivor said recently, connecting people with illnesses “makes a commonality because no one is a sore thumb. Sore thumbs among sore thumbs are just thumbs.”
Enter, the Streetlight Gaming League.
The Streetlight Gaming League, or SGL, is a virtual community of adolescent and young adult patients and Streetlight at UF Health volunteers and staff.
After years of designing and finally launching the program on June 20, 2018, we have been continuously humbled to witness the ways SGL has grown to allow our patients space for connection, support, and resilience in the chaos of illness. Currently, we’ve recruited over 100 Streetlight patients and 40 of our Streetlight volunteers to join this evolving community.
The central hub of the SGL community is our private Discord server, moderated by Assistant Director, Drew Walker. The server features various text and voice chat rooms, allowing patients and volunteers opportunities to connect virtually and organize playing together, sharing memes and pictures, and providing a supportive space for people undergoing difficult hospitalizations.
We’re always coming up with new events and server features to promote community member engagement and bonding. The ultimate goal is to give patients a safe space to connect with people with similar experiences and to have opportunities to make meaningful friendships.
This year, we launched our first ever run of the Streetlight Gaming League Summer Games, a summer-long event in which patients and volunteers could submit screenshots of in-game and real life “Victories,” for which they would receive “Victory Points.”
Bonus points were awarded when players completed victories with other Gaming League players. Victory Points were used to purchase 3D-printed prizes from an in-Discord item store, which we were able to make with the help of Bob Lockwood from UF Health Science Center Library.
This event inspired patients to post on Discord more, and as people started frequenting the server, amazing connections began to form.
It took one patient to be brave and vulnerable enough to share their story in the Discord chat.
They were soon followed by another, and another.
Soon, patients realized that they were not alone—they belonged to a community of resilient and kind adolescents and young adults just like themselves, who by virtue of their hospitalizations and infection control precautions, required room isolation.
Patients frequently use the server to let the community know they are coming into the hospital, to find people to play with, to ask questions, advice, to vent, and to offer up love and support. Thanks to our new virtual volunteer roles filled by UF Occupational Therapy graduate student, Paul Dungca, and Streetlight Technology Manager, Dante Haughton, players also now have the opportunity to join biweekly Dungeons and Dragons groups, which offer players the unique opportunity to engage creatively and socially through group storytelling.
While gaming is still a strong interest among the players in this group, the community has grown into a powerful support system for individuals regardless of their gaming experience.
As we seek to learn from the research on adolescent and young adult patients, we are surrounded by stories of resilience, or the way that individuals persevere and even thrive in the midst of stress and trauma.
Our Assistant Director, Drew Walker, utilized research he studied in his Master’s program in Health Education and Behavior to create a 3-part educational series on resilience, stress, and trauma, which helped introduce volunteers to a variety of social psychological concepts and learn about the powerful impact social support can have on our mental, emotional, and physical health.
Check out the last part of the series featured on our Streetlight website here. While it was originally intended for our volunteers, the concepts discussed are for anyone looking to learn about the radical impact of social support on our health and resilience.
Another way that we are working to foster resilience through exposure to the lived experience of others is through our partnership with the Heroes of Medicine Foundation. Heroes of Medicine (HoM) creates patient-centered short films that seek to capture the human condition in the areas where it is most threatened and cultivated. Illness is both an agent of devastation and growth, revealing vulnerable moments that translate into resilience, excellence, and sacrifice.
HoM provides, through storytelling, a medium through which young palliative care patients may be honored, highlighting what matters most to them and their loved ones. By offering this resource to our Streetlight community, we hope that we can further encourage a network of strength and inspiration among our patient population, featuring real-life heroes offering insight to others. You can check out Kayla’s story here.
We would like to end this update with a recent memory that will remain in our hearts through this holiday season and beyond. A very special friend of ours, named Kaitlin, recently celebrated the end of her cancer treatment. We asked Kaitlin how she would like us to honor her tremendous milestone, and she decided upon an “Elf” movie watching night with pizza and pajamas. Her most important request was that other patients be invited to the party, in the hopes that joining together at the end of her treatment could be an encouragement to the others continuing on in theirs. “I want them to know that if I can get through it, they can too.” It can be difficult to find joy in a place where there is so much fear and uncertainty, but being reminded that cure is possible, and that the power of friendship can be accessible all throughout that journey is a kind of hope uniquely found among our incredible community of patients. Finding meaning in the loving bonds that form not only in spite of illness, but perhaps also because of it, has been our Streetlight focus in 2019 and will continue to be a priority in our next year.
Thank you for taking the time to read our end of the year reflection. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped carry our program, and more specifically, all of you who have supported our efforts to provide loving care to our patients and community. Thank you to the patients who continue to inspire us, the health care team that collaborates with and informs us, the Streetlight volunteers who lovingly give of themselves for this work, and those who have ensured the sustainability of our program through selfless giving—Streetlight support would not be possible without these contributions. If you would like to help us continue this legacy of love and support, you can learn more here.
We wish you and your families a warm and rejuvenating holiday season and look forward to a wondrous new year of possibilities.
Lots of Love,
Emily and Drew