The Helena Project: Boise nurse brings Shakespeare to kids in hospital

A nurse at St. Luke's Children's Hospital is also director of an innovative program that brings the Idaho Shakespeare Festival to kids staying at the hospital.

BOISE - The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is one of the things that makes Boise so special, and it's something so many of us look forward to every summer.

But did you know, Shakespeare is being performed weekly at St. Luke's Children's Hospital? A special nurse is making sure the kids who are staying the hospital are getting the chance to experience theater, too.

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Renee Vomocil is a dedicated pediatric nurse, taking care of young patients at St. Luke's. But a few years ago, she was on a completely different path. For eight years, she served as the director of education at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

"I found out that there is an actual school here at the hospital for kids that can't go to regular school," Vomocil said. "I got in touch with the director of the school and we hit it off and so I was able to develop this program to get kids into theater that couldn't go to regular theater classes."

The Helena Project has been bringing festival actors to St. Luke's for six years now.

"They come every Wednesday, and whatever kids are here, that's who they work with," said St. Luke's teacher Valerie Player. "They light up, and it's often the highlight of the week for them."

And he children who participate are not merely spectators.

"They get to wear costumes, they get the full experience of a theater class." Vomocil added. "We try to bring in other nurses and people around to come and be the audience members."

A few years ago, while leading her class, Vomocil had a realization.

"I found myself wanting to be at the hospital more and more and just felt like my heart was here," she said.

So she took a leap and started nursing school.

"I definitely feel like this is where I was meant to be," Vomocil said. "I love meeting new people everyday, I love helping families in their hardest times."

On a recent Wednesday, Emily Ritchie decided to get out of her hospital room and give the Helena Project a try, and she's glad she did.

"I had never thought that there was something like this in the hospital," she said. "I didn't know what I was expecting, it's nice though. It's really fun to just get out and meet other people."

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Each week, the actors and patients work on one scene from a Shakespeare play. They are currently practicing "Julius Caesar," one of the Bard's most popular tragedies.

"She breaks it down and explains the plot to them in modern day terms," Player said. "And then the next thing you know here are our little kids with swords and helmets and performing "Julius Caesar."

Not only are the kids learning about theater, there is an additional benefit to the weekly sessions.

"They get to come and they get to play and they get to forget about everything for a while," Vomocil said.

For more information on the Helena Project, click here.