kindness activist

kindness activist

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Children's Books Kindness

Sure, most of us enjoy reading a children’s book aloud to a child.  You get to do the funny voices, you have an appreciative audience, and the books are usually sweet and fun.  But most of us DO NOT commit to reading to children as much as the lovely Rick Wasserman does.  Here is his story:

Rick in the studio
Rick is an actor in Los Angeles.  He does a lot of voice-over work.  In fact, I would bet you have heard his voice, you just didn’t know who it was.  Take a listen:

Short promo - listen until the end - that is RICK!

Yup, Rick is a big deal.  (My words, not his.  But he IS a big deal!)  He is the 10 year “signature voice” of AMC Network. Remember the “Better Call Saul” commercials telling you about the next episode??  Or how about “The Walking Dead”??  Yup, those were Rick.  He also does voice-over work for many other networks, cartoons, animation, commercials, video games, documentaries, and movie trailers.  So see, a BIG DEAL.   J  (Note:  all you “Better Call Saul” junkies out there, do NOT spoil it for me!  We are in the middle of season one.)

And not only is he busy PROFESSIONALLY, he also has a beautiful wife and two adorable sons.  He loves magic and cooking.  I tell you this to explain:  Rick has a lot of stuff to do, he is a busy person!  It is not like he is just sitting by the swimming pool drinking margaritas…  And yet…

Rick and his awesome family
For the last four years Rick has volunteered his time to go to UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and read books to patients.  Once a month.  For FOUR YEARS.  He started by working with a group of professional voice-over artists called PRIMETIME VOICES FOR CHILDREN, led by popular VO artist Joe Cipriano (who Rick calls a “fine human being”). Here is how Rick tells the story of his introduction to reading at the hospital: 

“The idea was that we’d make a recording of us voicing THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, each artist taking a couple of sentences. The sales of the recording would be gifted to the Child Life Center at UCLA's Mattel Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.  As a special bonus, we were scheduled to perform the story, live, at the hospital for the children on an early December afternoon.  So I went along with the boisterous group a few days before the holidays and we performed and it was very well received.  During that first visit, I noticed that three of the five children I read to didn’t celebrate Christmas. A few didn’t speak English. Some didn’t want to be read to, rather, they just wanted some company. I felt compelled to come back and read to the children again, but with the stories I read to my own kids: short, fun, and provocative.  I asked the head nurse if I could come back by myself with this new plan. I was allowed to return the next month. And the next. Now I am going on my fourth year. I never miss a monthly visit.”

Voice-Over Artists entertaining at the hospital

Rick and team in action 
Isn’t that amazing?  Every single month he gives of his time, his voice, and his heart.  He usually goes alone, but every Christmas the PRIMETIME VOICES group visits and dresses up, reading all sorts of holiday and non-holiday books (and singing carols J ).  I would say that annual visit by those artists is a holiday mitzvah not to be missed!  What a way to give back to their community.  Heck, I am not a patient and he doesn’t sit and read books to me, but every once in a while I see a photo like this of his on Facebook and it makes me smile so big:

Great selection of books, eh?  It would be hard to choose which one I wanted to hear!
I asked Rick about the origins of his visits, which he had never done anything like before, and how the volunteering makes him feel.  He explained it so well: “After I’d been performing voice-overs for about a decade, a close friend asked me if that’s ALL I wanted to do. He said it seemed to him that while VO served me and my family, it didn’t really serve humanity. I am still not sure how I feel about that remark, but it did start me thinking: how can I serve humanity besides throwing money at charities.  The first time I read for the children, I was focused on performing and doing a good job; I probably did that on purpose so I didn’t have to feel all the emotions one might feel surrounded by what the nurses have called “catastrophically ill” patients and their worried and exhausted families. The next time I read to them, I forced myself to connect and open up. It was a very hard visit. I felt like crying and leaving. Each time I visit, I challenge myself to stay open, to stay available…and play. Just play. I try and “read” each room I visit and let the patient dictate how they want to interact. Sometimes I read a story or two. Sometimes we just talk or play a game.  I am pretty good with magic and mentalism, so we often enjoy some fun tricks as well. For better or for worse, I see a lot of the same children during my visits and we both look forward to meeting up again. Many children have passed; I won’t ever get used to that and I don’t want to. I love them.”

Oh I can imagine how excited those “repeat customers” are when they see Rick walk into their room!!  I bet their eyes light up and they are thrilled to have a REAL VISITOR, not someone who is going to take blood or make them do physical therapy.  Sure, those medical treatments are very, very important, but so is feeling like a kid and hearing a story, or watching a magic trick!  I would bet money that those kids are healthier AFTER Rick’s visit than they were before he walked in. 

A thank you card from a kid - super sweet.
I asked Rick how he thinks the kids and their families feel when he visits here is how he described it: “I think the kids get a kick out of my visits. For some, it’s a distraction from their illness and monotony of their daily lives, often being confined to a bed. Many patients equate an adult stranger with someone who is going to poke at their stitches, give them shots, or bring them bad news; so I think I help demonstrate that some adults wanna just have a good time with them…with no pain, anxiety, or fear. Some don’t have family with them, so I can provide them with the comfort of a familiar face. I think they mostly see me as a big kid, a playmate. Parents and siblings are grateful for my visits too. I regularly read to the kids who are unconscious which their families find comforting.”

Click here to hear some of Rick reading "The Frog and the Ox" - it is lovely!

My partner David is a clown with the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC.  It is a fantastic program that sends clowns into Children’s Hospitals across the country.  I am a firm believer that programs like Clown Doctors, reading to kids, music in hospitals, etc. help the patients and their families.  Heck, I even think it helps the STAFF by giving them a bit of a distraction and something fun to focus on for a moment.  And I am certain that the families of those unconscious patients that Rick reads to are so grateful to have him pay attention to their child, to treat them as normal
How could the sight of this sweet man in your hospital room with this book NOT make you feel better??
Rick told me he can’t see himself not reading to the kids.  To him, it is not difficult and is something he loves.  He explained, “If it provides the kids just a few moments when they are not thinking about being sick in a hospital, then it is well worth it. I like me better when I am with the children. I encourage others to read to children. Kids need the interaction. A TV or phone or tablet is NOT the same. I also never call the kids “soldiers” or “angels” or “special” and I don’t tell them how brave they are: they are tired of hearing that stuff. They just wanna be treated like other kids. That’s how I try and make them feel.” 

To close this out, I must use Rick’s words, for they are much more poignant than anything I could write about his experience, “It is not emotionally easy…but it shouldn’t be. I used to avoid sad music, movies, stories and the like because I don’t like feeling sad. But I have realized it is part of the emotional spectrum. I NEED to feel sad sometimes. Some things are sad.  And as a bonus, feeling the sad makes feeling the happy that much sweeter. When a patient’s health improves, my heart swells. I once visited a child I’d read to many,many times.  When I finished reading a story, her mother nudged her and asked her to tell me her news. She smiled with a big cheeky grin and said, “I got my new heart.” I was honored to be there for that moment.”

Rick, it is an honor to dub you a Kindness Activist.  Thank you for reminding us that we need to experience all stops along the emotional spectrum.  Thank you for using your talent, your voice, and your heart to bring joy and kindness to the children and their families.  You said that the head of PRIMETIME VOICES FOR CHILDREN was a “fine human being”, and I would have to say, sir, that that label definitely applies to YOU as well. 

Are you inspired by Rick's kindness?  Hopefully hearing about his big heart (and big voice) give you ideas about going into YOUR community and BEING KIND!  Make sure to "like" Kindness Activist on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@KindActivist) so you can be inspired by more Kindness Activists!

PRIMETIME VOICES FOR CHILDREN reading “The Night Before Christmas”:  click here
Rick Wasserman website for Bookable VO (study with the best!):  click here
Rick Wasserman on Wikipedia (ok, I fan girled out a bit while writing this one…):  click here

Rick on IMDB:  click her
Big Apple Circus Clown Care:  click here

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