Cards for Hospitalized Kids founder works to bring joy to children who need encouragement

Cards for Hospitalized Kids founder works to bring joy to children who need encouragement

Jen Rubino knows what it is like to be stuck in a hospital bed, away from friends, family and the activities she loves.

Growing up in Des Plaines, Rubino was a competitive gymnast, and working out six days a week came with its share of injuries, aches and pains.

Camden, a heart transplant patient at Lurie Children's Hospital, with the cards he received from Cards for Hospitalized Kids in April 2023. courtesy of Camden's family

At age 12, she went to the doctor with pain in her wrist, assuming it was just another sports injury. Instead, she was diagnosed with a childhood connective tissue and bone disease.

Rubino had to endure multiple hospital stays and treatments, which ultimately led to more than 20 surgeries, the worst being major hip reconstructive surgery at Lurie Children's Hospital at age 15. The surgery required that surgeons break Rubino's hip in five places and then reconstruct and reposition it. "It is a very rare surgery," Rubino said, "and very painful. I spent four or five days in the ICU and then about another week in the hospital."

After she was released, Rubino still had a long recovery in front of her with months of rehabilitation and physical therapy. She had to learn to walk again.

She said she felt sad and isolated thinking about the things she was missing.

Cards made by Pediatric Smile Dentistry Company for Cards for Hospitalized Kids. courtesy of Jen Rubino

"I received a handmade card from a volunteer and it really made my day," Rubino said. "It was a small act of kindness that someone is thinking about you, encouraging you."

This small act inspired Rubino to start her own charity, Cards for Hospitalized Kids, when she was just 16 and a student at Maine South High School.

"It started out really small," Rubino said, "but then it just took off."

She teamed up with the Des Plaines Public Library and Maine South to host monthly card-making events. Soon enough, the community and other libraries and schools across Illinois also hosted events.

But, for the most part, Rubino led the charge.

She said she started reaching out to libraries, schools, companies.

"I also built the website and started using social media to help grow the charity, which ended up being extremely helpful," she said.

"CFHK is unique in the sense that people can get involved regardless of their location, and can do so at their own convenience without having to give any formal commitment. For this reason, using social media to help spread the word was extremely impactful."

She said that building relationships with other teen nonprofit founders also helped. Rubino even reached out to celebrities and athletes to spread the word on social media.

"Even one tweet from a celebrity or athlete can bring in hundreds or thousands of cards," she said.

She also used her social media to keep everyone up to date on her organization's progress and the impact their cards were making on the kids. Pretty impressive for a teenager.

Cards made by teens at the Byron Public Library. The Des Plaines Public Library will be hosting a card-making session on Thursday, June 15. courtesy of Jen Rubino

"In the beginning, I was doing everything myself - from processing and distributing cards, to social media, to community outreach and so on," she said.

"I was doing all of this while being a high school student taking A.P. courses. Fortunately, my friends and peers rallied behind the cause and did all they could to help. And it was worth all the hard work because of the impact CFHK has had on thousands of kids," she said.

Today, Rubino said more than 500,000 cards have been distributed to hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses across the country.

"We have people of all ages and all walks of life creating cards for us," Rubino said.

While anyone is invited to create cards, there are some guidelines that must be followed. Messages must be positive, with no mention of the child's illness or illness related concerns.

"You never know what a child on the receiving end is going through. We want the messages to be positive and uplifting," Rubino said.

She added that they don't want cards with excessive glitter or stamp ink that may come off because you don't know how that may impact a child's health. Other guidelines can be found online at

A class of students with the cards they made for Cards for Hospitalized Kids. Anyone is invited to create cards and send them to 7290 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60631. courtesy of Jen Rubino

Cards can then be sent to 7290 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60631.

"We process them, sort them, inspect them for the guidelines and then send them out," Rubino said.

Rubino said there is a referral form on the website so kids can be signed up to receive cards.

"We also send out to individuals. A child doesn't have to be in a hospital. We have kids who have ongoing health issues who receive cards from us regularly," she said.

Cards go out across the country every month and on holidays. To help pay for shipping costs, Rubino said the organization is lucky to have companies such as Target, Hershey, Bank of America and others donate to them.

"But we are switching gears this year and people will be able to make donations on our website later this summer."

To help keep the positive messages coming, the charity hosts card making parties at various venues. The next one will take place from 4-5 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Thursday, June 15, at the Des Plaines Public Library, 1501 Ellinwood St.

"They (the library) have been hosting for us for a long time, all the way back when we started when I was in high school," Rubino said.

Joanie Sebastian, head adult librarian at the Des Plaines library, has been there since the beginning. She said it is incredible that Rubino started this as a teen and has taken it nationwide.

"She was one of those kids in the hospital who saw what other kids needed to brighten their day and she made it happen with drive and determination," Sebastian said.

She added that the library offers space for Cards for Hospitalized Kids to meet once a month, and that it offers a great community service opportunity for kids.

Rubino added that it is a good way for people, in general, to come together to show off their creativity for a good cause.

"People realize how impactful it is for the kids and how they have the capacity to make a difference."

Cards for Hospitalized Kids

What: Help make positive cards for kids who are hospitalized.

When: 4-5 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Thursday, June 15

Where: Des Plaines Public Library, 1501 Ellinwood St.


www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.comAnyone is invited to send cards to:• 7290 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60631

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.