As I’ve said time and time again, one of the best things about running The Smile Project is the people it has introduced me to and the community it has forged. I was so excited to connect with Charles Zhang, founder of The Wishing Crane Project, over Instagram and I am even more excited to be able to bring their story to life in this blog post.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Fill in the blank..
Charles: Happiness is the ability to freely pursue one’s passions and live life to its fullest without regret.
Liz: Tell me about yourself and The Wishing Crane Project.
Charles: My name is Charles Zhang and I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona studying neuroscience and cognitive sciences. The Wishing Crane Project began when my in person volunteering at Hospice of the Valley ended due to the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, I spent hours each week assisting dementia patients with cognitively stimulating activities like Bingo and Uno. However, due to COVID-19, all in person activities were suspended indefinitely, leaving patients lonely and confined to their bedrooms.
After learning about this dilemma, I brainstormed ideas that would instill an everlasting feeling of love into the lives of hospice patients and recalled my favorite childhood story Sadako and the Thousand Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. In this story, a Japanese girl named Sadako, diagnosed with leukemia, folded one thousand paper cranes in hopes of becoming healthy. According to Japanese legend, a crane represents good fortune and longevity, and folding 1000 cranes means that a wish is granted.
Inspired by this story, I started folding origami cranes everyday for hospice and hospital patients with the goal of instilling hope and optimism into their lives. On these cranes, I wrote inspirational messages and fun jokes on them to brighten up their day. It was not long before I founded the Wishing Crane Project along with my two friends Celina and Audrey, and we expanded our initiative to over 100 members at our school’s National
Honors Society. After two months, my team made over 3,000 cranes, impacting over 200 hospice patients in Arizona.
Today, the Wishing Crane Project has expanded its initiative to 10 Arizona hospices, Banner Desert Medical Center, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, Mercy Hospital, and many more! Overall, we have folded 7,000+ origami cranes and dozens of cards for hospital and hospice patients. Our organization consists of Arizona middle school, high school, and college students across the valley dedicated to performing small acts of kindness such as creating origami cranes and cards for hospital patients. Each one of our crafts are crafted with passion and love for the received patient. We hope that our cranes will spread happiness and joy into others lives.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Charles: The driving force behind the Wishing Crane Project is the overwhelming positive response from our hospice and hospital patients receiving our crane and card donations. Through our small acts of kindness, our group of passionate volunteers is able to make a significant impact on other individuals’ lives through arts and crafts. Additionally, our ultimate goal of expanding the Wishing Crane Project to all the hospitals throughout the
United States always motivates us to recruit for new volunteers and expand our mission to hospices and hospitals across the nation.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
Charles: I would define service as dedicating your free time to better the lives of other individuals and your community. Whether it be cleaning up your local park or volunteering at a hospital, every act of kindness, no matter how big or small, is under the umbrella of service.
Liz: How can people get involved?
Charles: To learn more about the Wishing Crane Project, you can check out our website thewishingcraneproject.org or follow us on Instagram @thewishingcraneproject. We would love for you (from any age or state) to become involved in the Wishing Crane Project! Feel free to contact us on Instagram if you are interested in joining our initiative.
Liz: Do you have a piece of advice you’d like to share in closing?
Charles: My favorite piece of advice I would give to others is to always have confidence in yourself. Do not compare yourself to others and always believe that you have the ability to achieve what others can.