You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Playing 4 Hope builds friendships between MU athletes and children’s hospital patients.
Athletes are remembered for their talent and their power to inspire and encourage others. Playing 4 Hope — a local nonprofit organization — is taking advantage of the ability of MU athletes to pass on hope and encouragement to MU Children’s Hospital patients.
How it Started
Playing 4 Hope was founded in 2016 by Haley Ennis. During her time as a soccer player, Haley knew the feeling of playing with someone in mind and the encouragement it gave her, as well as the hope it gave to others.
Haley’s story, chronicled at Playing4Hope.org, explains that throughout high school, Haley dedicated her games to her coach’s wife who died away during Haley’s freshman year. Throughout college Haley dedicated her games to her grandmother, Mama, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. When Mama died in October 2016, Haley and the board created a plan to grow Playing 4 Hope in her grandmother’s name.
How it Works
Playing 4 Hope was founded based on relationships and encouraging others who need it most. The organization works to build relationships between patients and athletes. Playing 4 Hope doesn’t discriminate when it comes to which MU athlete or patient is selected. Patients could be new to the hospital or have been a patient for years. Athletes come from all sports.
“We don’t discriminate in any shape or form, so it’s really any patient in need,” Executive Director Brian Thomas says. “That can encompass illness, disability, disease; those patients could be in there one day, they could be in there for years — obviously some are more impactful than others — but every child who’s in there, going through a difficult time needs that.”
A lot goes into the patient selection, including a kind-of “get to know me” form, although Brian says staff at Playing 4 Hope is not involved in the initial selection process.
“Health Services decides who that person is, so we don’t actually go in and do the deciding. We have a great group of ladies at the hospital who makes that decision beforehand,” he explains. “When we do [make the decision] we have them fill out like a little form, ask them what’s their favorite sport, favorite hobby, foods. That way the athletes have a little something they know about the child before they walk in the room.”
From there, the relationship is allowed to flourish at its own time and pace.
“We let the guys visit. We kind-of let them take over. We realize that these athletes, when they get into the room, whether it’s the football players, gymnastics — more recently basketball players — they’re really good at having conversations. It doesn’t matter what age, whether they’re a 3-year-old or 18, they’re great at having conversations. They’re great at being leaders, really connecting with the kids and that’s what we love to see,” Brian says.
Encouraging words and visits can lead to a strong relationship between patient and athlete, but Playing 4 Hope wants patients to feel the connection outside of the hospital and on the field as well.
That is why patients are given a wristband to match an athlete’s. Patients can see their friend wearing the matching wristband during a game and know that the athlete is playing with them in mind.
“The wristband symbolizes a special bond between the two and lets the child know that athlete has dedicated their game, and their fight, to them,” the organization’s website says.
During football season, Playing 4 Hope also provides all patients, their families, and staff on the pediatric floors with tailgating essentials: food, beverages, backyard games, and a watch party.
Plans for the Future
Playing 4 Hope has been able to foster many inspiring relationships through its work and they have plans to foster more with a new campaign called Players 4 Hope.
“Players 4 Hope is new for us. We did a proof of concept of bringing a couple athletes into grade schools. Talking about mental health, mental health awareness in the adolescent population, where to get help, anti-bullying, pushing through adversity. That was really impactful,” Brian says. “We went and did this in a Lebanon school district. We are continuing to grow it, so we’re doing that here in Columbia now. Essentially, what we do is go there and talk about mental health and mental health awareness. We also provide any underserved kids with winter clothing, school supplies, and the whole school gets wristbands to know that there’s that special bond.”
Playing 4 Hope offers many opportunities for the Columbia community to get involved and support the organization’s cause.
As a nonprofit organization, Playing 4 Hope is dependent on the support it receives from the local community. There are options to donate, sponsor an athlete, or participate in a fundraising event. All this information can be found at
Playing 4 Hope Mission
Playing 4 Hope is a nonprofit organization that provides an outlet of hope to children who are in the hospital due to disability, illness, or disease and to underserved children in our area’s grade schools. We believe that a hopeful child can heal more quickly.
Playing 4 Hope focuses on giving back to both the children and the community they live in. By connecting a child with a collegiate athlete from the community, we lay the foundation for a relationship that is built on inspiration. Together with hope, they both can win.
Brian Thomas, Executive Director/President
Dustin Armstrong, Vice President
Haley Ennis, Founder and Secretary
Ariess Gharabagi, Treasurer
Bri Thomas, Social Media and Marketing
Andrew Behrmann, Board Member