When Rick Rokosz’s grandson, Kian, was in and out of the hospital for respiratory issues, there was always one thing that brightened his day. It was knowing he had Hippo-Leo, a small toy stuffed hippopotamus animal with him that he carried everywhere.

“Knowing what Kian had to go through and facing the unknown, a stuffed animal partner  for the kids hospitalized made a connection with us,” Rick said. “It tugged at our hearts. If another child can have a little bit more of a bearable and comfortable experience while they were in the hospital, then that’s what we are going to do.”

Rick is a faculty member in the Anderson College of Business and has been teaching at Regis for 27 years. He currently teaches in the Project Management and Leadership program as a distance educator while living in Arizona. Rick, along with his with his wife Darlene, co-founded Project KIAN (Kids in Affection Need).

Project KIAN is an established fund of the Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation and works to collect and distribute new stuffed animals to children hospitalized at the Flagstaff Medical Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

So far, the project has collected more than 500 new stuffed animals. Rick and Darlene started the project when they toured Flagstaff Medical Center. The nurses there said they usually got a lot of stuffed animals donated around the holiday season but would always run out later in the year. When that would happen, the nurses would go out and buy additional stuffed animals to fill the void.

For the Rokoszes, having the nurses go out and buy additional stuffed animals was unacceptable. So they went to their community and held a drive to collect new stuffed animals. The first drive netted them more than 130 stuffed animals. The Rokoszes are on their fourth drive now and the collection of stuffed animals for this cycle is going well.

Anyone interested in helping out can visit nahealthfoundation.org/donate. All donations go directly to purchasing stuffed animals for children in the hospital. Those on campus that would like to donate can get in touch with Anderson College of Business Assistant Professor Don GIer at dgier@regis.edu. All stuffed animals must be new and still have the tag on them.

“It’s a great project, a real labor of love for Darlene and I,” Rick said.  “We are so glad to know that through our efforts we are able to makes these kids who are going through some real rough treatments and medical procedures, smile a little. It’s our way of living the Jesuit value of being in service to others. We’ll take stuffed animals of any size and/or shape so long as they are new.”