One childhood cancer patient- a beautiful young fighter named Tamera- changed the course of Diane Mifsud’s life. Diane, a professional artist in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, had always had a heart for giving back to the community. But, it was her volunteer work with childhood cancer patients- and her relationship with Tamera- that prompted Diane to want to do more for kids in the hardest fight.

As Diane puts it, she “fell in love with Tamera” and one of the things the pair loved to do together while she was in the hospital was to use their imaginations to create art. Tamera’s battle was long and Diane stayed with her throughout her journey, growing closer and closer to the girl and always coming up with new ways to engage Tamera’s creativity and give her outlets for expression. Tamera eventually succumbed to cancer, but Diane’s heart for her- and kids like her- didn’t change. She thought, “What can I do to support these beautiful children in the hospital?” Her answer to that question was Project Imagine, the organization Diane launched in 2010 to bring art and joy to children in hospitals here in Las Vegas.

Project Imagine is an arts-in-medicine program providing enriching arts experiences for hospitalized children. The program also encourages participation among siblings and family members as well.  From visual to performing arts, Project Imagine’s offering continues to expand- as resources and relationships permit- to reach more and more children. To date, more than 1,500 children have benefited from in-hospital artistic sessions with Project Imagine’s specially-trained artists.

Because of Diane’s experience with Tamera, she had gotten to know many families affected by childhood cancer and their special needs. Coming from that very intimate place helped Diane shape a program that truly makes a difference. While the initial focus was on childhood oncology patients, Project Imagine now serves a broader population of children.

Project Imagine’s approach is simple, but the impact is profound.

The organization arranges for community artists to visit Summerlin Hospital Medical Center and Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center twice a week, where they engage pediatric patients in creative projects spanning art, music, dance, theater and literary exploration.

As Diane explains, “It’s all about empowering the children by letting them choose the materials or language they want to use to express themselves.” She added, “There is so much fear associated with children being isolated in a hospital room, and the opportunity to be creative gives them a voice and an outlet.”

Research supports that artistic activities help release stress, anxiety and feelings of isolation during medical treatment, Diane noted. And, while the science concerning the benefits of arts and medicine is compelling, Diane is most moved by what she sees on the faces of the children she works with.

“They look forward to these sessions,” Diane said of the children Project Imagine serves. “It’s something they depend on. It’s a way to escape their circumstances through the power of their imaginations.”

The goal for Project Imagine is to expand to work with more hospitals throughout Southern Nevada. The 501c3 is entirely donor supported. The more resources it has, the more children the program is able to serve.