Life as a child in a hospital’s pediatrics unit can be lonely, uninteresting and slow. It is difficult to move around the hospital, so one is often confined to the space of his or her bed. Immunity is low, so contact with people outside of one’s immediate family and hospital staff is rare. One woman, Shira Mehrnia, 25, of Ventura, recognized these issues and couldn’t let them lie.

“I began some self-development workshops in February, and part of the third series of workshops was to create a community vision and project,” Mehrnia says. “I used to work in the auxiliary program at the Community Memorial Hospital, but I was never able to get into the pediatrics unit. It’s been my goal to help those children since.”

One month ago, the real process began. Mehrnia sent out letters to family and friends while word of mouth spread among doctors and other health practitioners. Her goal is to implement two Fun Centers, the product of a collaboration between the charity Starlight and Nintendo of America that began more than 15 years ago, in both CMH’s and Ventura County Medical Center’s pediatrics departments.

The centers are ideal for hospitals because they are affixed to wheels and can roll right up to a patient’s bed or anywhere else a child may be located in the hospital. The newest models feature a Nintendo Wii, Sharp Aquos LCD flat-panel television and DVD player, as well as Wii remotes. Each unit costs $4,250 (plus tax). This may seem a hefty price, but it must be considered that such buys all include entertainment components and the unit casing, shipping, lifetime maintenance, a library of 22 pre-downloaded games and dozens of DVDs.

“So far I have raised approximately $2,500,” Mehrnia says. “My biggest donator this far has been my 13-year-old sister, who donated $1,000 from her bat mitzvah funds. My uncle, who is involved with Jewelry Couture and Joseph’s, has also been a big contributor.”

Although it distracts children from the loneliness that may be present in hospital life, the Fun Center has proven to provide much more than that. It has been noted in hospitals where children use the machine regularly that it seems to reduce the need for pain medication and makes physical therapy and motor skills practice easier. Then there is the question of why video games instead of raising funds for therapy education for children in the hospital. The fact is that patients are often in and out of a hospital, and it is difficult to bring in anyone from the outside to teach the children while their immunity is so low, possibly putting their health at great risk. The Fun Center machine is portable and may be used safely without compromising a patient’s health.

“Ventura County is big. We have a lot of hospitals and children who are in need of help,” says Mehrnia. “Why not continue this on a larger scale and get the community involved so that we can say we did something as a collective? There is this saying that any person’s child could end up in the hospital, whether it be mine or yours, so it’s important that everyone is involved in something like this.”

To make a donation, contact