Abby Lewis has an alter ego.
You can often find her dressed in a pink, floor-length dress, sporting a long, braided blonde wig. As Rapunzel, she entertains children with pediatric cancer, and she’s rarely seen without a smile on her face.
Pediatric cancer hits close to home with Lewis. Her younger sister had leukemia, relapsed twice but survived, which inspired Lewis to give back to the organizations that had helped her sister. In high school, she worked with childhood cancer organizations and other nonprofit groups.
When the Oakhurst, New Jersey, native came to Ohio State University, she didn’t see a club that allowed her to interact with kids in the manner in which she hoped.
So Lewis started a chapter of A Moment of Magic, a nonprofit that allows college students to volunteer at children’s hospitals and interact with children. Popular programs include visits from princesses and superheroes.
“You’re able to go and visit these kids personally and form connections with them,” she said.
Lewis, now 21 and a senior studying economics, has been the chapter president for the past two years. This school year she will still be involved, but decided to pass along the presidency torch to Emma Smith.
Smith met Lewis two years ago at the very first A Moment of Magic meeting.
“I instantly wanted to be her friend,” said Smith, a senior studying nursing. “She’s the kind of person that when she walks into the room, she brings the kind of energy that you just want to be around and be a part of. I think that’s why she was able to make our club so successful.”
Lewis said when she started the chapter in 2017, the group included her and 11 others. Now, the chapter has more than 50 active members.
The organization offers programming in the form of character visits, Lewis said.
“We have our characters in training go through training of makeup and costuming, because you want these kids to believe that they’re real,” she said.
The group usually goes to hospitals and other nonprofits and will often color with the children, hang out and answer questions about their character.
“I love their faces right when we walk in,” Lewis said. “It makes them feel really special, because a lot of these kids don’t really get visitors. Us going in there being their favorite character, their reaction kind of takes your breath away for a second.”
To be cast as a character, the member must submit an application to the national A Moment of Magic office, Lewis said, who then decides what character the person is most like.
“Usually you stick to one character the whole time,” Lewis said. “It’s helpful to do it that way, because these kids know everything to know about these characters.”
Smith and Lewis became close friends through the organization, and Smith said she has some pretty big shoes to fill when she replaces Lewis as president.
“She’s amazing at just about everything she does,” Smith said. “The passion that she brings to it and the passion that she inspires to our club members is beautiful. She has [made] a huge difference in my life, not only through this club but outside of this club.”
Smith said Lewis is driven, compassionate and funny.
“She has that good sense of humor that can diffuse a situation and make everybody who is a little bit nervous or uncomfortable feel a little bit more relaxed.”
Kylee McGrane is the founder and executive director for A Moment of Magic. McGrane, who nominated Lewis for Everyday Heroes, said she has a unique perspective on working with children with cancer.
“It’s been a pleasure working with her for the last two years,” McGrane said. “I can’t think of anyone else more deserving of the title of ‘hero.’ ”