Entertaining children and families facing health challenges brings joy to these WilmU alumnae.
As leaders of Pursuit For Peace, a Dover-based nonprofit, Caitlyn Kuhn and Lauren Foraker have brought joy to thousands of children and families facing medical challenges over the past six years.
Dressing as characters from fairy tales, the Wilmington University alumnae and other PFP members sing, dance, read, do crafts, and otherwise entertain what the organization calls Medically Vulnerable People (MVPs).
But to hear Kuhn, Foraker, and other group members tell it, they derive almost as much pleasure from their efforts as the children do.
“It’s like a full-time job, but really it’s like full-time playtime because we all love what we’re able to do for the kids,” Foraker says.
Member Jean Bones, also a WilmU alum, says: “It’s so much more than dressing up; it’s providing the gift of magic and joy to the ones who need it most.”
“It’s such a blessing to be part of,” says Brooke Mitchell, vice president of PFP and another University graduate. “One could say that it’s a way for us volunteers to serve others, but truly, this organization serves its volunteers just as much by being the most impactful nonprofit I have ever experienced.
“For me, volunteering with Pursuit For Peace has been transformative.”
Founded by Kuhn in 2017, PFP sprang from a trauma she faced as a teenager. While practicing with the Caesar Rodney High School soccer team in Camden, Delaware, she says, “I noticed this growth that popped up on the inside of my leg. The trainer wrapped it, but it didn’t get better, and after a couple of days, my parents took me to a doctor. He immediately said it was a tumor. I went for an MRI that night, and the next day we were told that it was most likely cancer and I most likely was going to lose my leg.”
“It’s so much more than dressing up; it’s providing the gift of magic and joy to the ones who need it most.” — Jean Bones
Luckily, Kuhn’s parents took her to Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington for a second opinion. “It turned out to be a mass that wasn’t cancerous, and I ended up having it removed a couple years later before I graduated high school, and it’s been fine ever since,” she says. “But it was a scare.”
At the hospital, she encountered young patients fighting for their lives. “It was truly heartbreaking seeing the kids that couldn’t have a quick fix like me,” she says. “I could see how lonely and hard any type of illness can be for a child.”
That memory stayed with her into adulthood. Then, a few years ago, she says, “I stumbled upon a video of a college group dressing and visiting these children that had vulnerabilities, and something in me sparked into motion. I knew I needed to do the same type of work in Delaware. I set out to find sponsors that could catch the vision and volunteers with common interests, and we hit the ground running. We never looked back once we started.”
Initiated as a ministry in 2016 at Calvary Church in Dover, Pursuit For Peace was incorporated in 2018. That’s when Foraker joined the organization, and she and Kuhn discovered that they had much in common.
Both share a background in music and theater. Kuhn, who began performing in church as a child, has been a singer, dancer and director in community musical theater and has given acting lessons.
Foraker also has an extensive theater background, including classical guitar and vocal performances, as well as coaching and mentoring other performers.
And, of course, they share a WilmU education. Kuhn earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2016 from the University, and in 2020 received a master’s from Liberty University in Human Services Counseling with a focus on Crisis and Trauma.
Foraker, who is chair of Media and Press for PFP, got a bachelor’s in Communication & Media Studies from WilmU in 2019, and is working on a master’s in Management, Organizational Leadership, which she expects to complete next year.
Both took a hybrid of online and in-person courses. “I had an amazing experience there,” Kuhn says. “The classroom portion was really awesome. It was collaborative, and I developed really good relationships with the teachers and the students, and we had really good discussions.”
Foraker’s experience was similar. “I was able to thrive and I gained many skills in collaborating both in-person and online, and I’ve been able to parlay that into pretty much every working environment I’ve embarked on since then,” she says.
“I was able to thrive and I gained many skills in collaborating both in-person and online, and I’ve been able to parlay that into pretty much every working environment I’ve embarked on since then.” — Lauren Foraker
She also served as a peer mentor and became the social media manager for the Criminal Justice Association. In addition, Foraker received the Trustees Award for Service.
Kuhn, Foraker, Bones, and Mitchell aren’t the only WilmU alumnae in PFP. Kuhn says nearly a third of the 30 or so members are either graduates of the University or currently enrolled.
“It’s like Wildcat nation here,” she says.
Sponsors, grants, and an annual gala fund the nonprofit. In 2022, the group acquired a 1,000-square-foot building in Dover as its headquarters, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Delaware Community Foundation.
Yolanda Rushdan, senior program officer at DCF, says the grant came from the foundation’s COVID-19 Strategic Response Fund, which supported efforts that helped the community recover from the pandemic.
“Pursuit For Peace has found a very unique way to bring joy to families and children who are struggling with illness,” Rushdan says. “They’re able to provide an experience that helps lift spirits and provide relief and encouragement to the families when they need it most.”
In its brief history, PCP has worked with many groups and organizations, including Nemours Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Bayhealth Medical Group, Down Syndrome Association of Delaware, Delaware State Police, and local businesses.
One of PFP’s early appearances was at Grace Presbyterian Church in Dover for Arise Delaware (now Embrace), an organization focusing on those with disabilities. Several PFP “princesses” attended Embrace’s Respite night, a monthly event for children.
Says Paige Baione, who was executive director of Arise at the time of the event: “After parents dropped off the kids, six or seven Pursuit For Peace princesses performed songs and dances, then played and interacted with them.
“The kids loved them. They were completely taken up in the magic of the princesses. They knew the songs and sang along and got such a kick out of dancing with them. It was such a fun evening for everyone.”
“The kids loved them. They were completely taken up in the magic of the princesses.” — Paige Baione
Kuhn explains that PFP performers, which include princesses and a superhero resembling Wonder Woman, never break character once they arrive at an event. “Our costumes come from a company in China,” she says, “and are designed to accommodate most body types, which makes it much easier to transition from one character to another.”
Last February, Kuhn, her husband and their 1- and 2-year-old daughters moved from Delaware to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She quickly joined a church, recruited two other women there, and started a second PFP chapter. There’s a third chapter in Washington D.C., and Kuhn says she speaks to the leader of that chapter every week.
Foraker, meanwhile, formed her own consulting firm, Leaderly Consulting Group LLC, in March. She consults with clients on leadership, behavioral analysis, communications, and personal growth. Despite the demands of her startup business, she plans to maintain the same level of involvement with PFP.
“It’s such a passion,” she says. “Really a collective calling that we all have, to be able to serve the least of these. We all love what we’re able to do.”
Kuhn is a stay-at-home mom, but she devotes many hours each week to PFP. “My mind is continuously reckoning with what can we do better, what’s our next event, what costumes need repairs,” she says.
Establishing more chapters is a primary goal.
“I would love for our nonprofit to take off,” she says. “We have three chapters in five years, so I would like to have three more in the next five years. I would love to continue growing and making a difference throughout the nation.”