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Ill children at St. Mary’s get decorations from SJU

"This is the only environment they're in," St. John's senior Omar Tsatsis said about the hospital and its patients. "The chance to see new faces and new decorations can really brighten up their day."

Tsatsis is the president of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a 25-member social fraternity at St. John's that began the annual event last year and calls the day Transforming Kids' Environment in a play on their group's Greek name. This year Tsatsis focused on getting more groups than just fraternities and sororities involved, and more than 100 members from 20 organizations responded, ranging from the Chappell Players theater group to the men's basketball team.

"I'm glad the team came out," Tsatsis said, adding that he hoped the philanthropic event would not only benefit the children but also cast St. John's in a better light. Six players from the basketball team were either suspended or expelled after a scandal involving sex with a woman they met in Pittsburgh after an out-of-town game.

The patients at St. Mary's generally range in age from 3 to 16, and many are confined to bed. The St. John's students decorated the rooms with characters from the cartoons Dora the Explorer and Blues Clues for the younger patients and Hilary Duff and Britney Spears for the older ones.

"You make new friends, and you make them smile," said Adrienne Farnitano, a junior and president of the Lambda Phi sorority.

Tsatsis recruited volunteers at school-wide meetings for the officers of clubs and organizations and through the Athletic Department. With the hospital's help, he then surveyed the kids on what decorating themes they would like and divided up the rooms among the volunteers.

While each bed already had a Plexiglas case on the wall behind it to display the patients' personal mementos, hospital staff said there was always room for improvement.

"It really enlivens the environment," said Jennifer McGrath, who has worked at St. Mary's for seven months. "It's still a hospital."

Tsatsis encouraged the volunteers to keep in touch with the children and to come back to decorate for holidays and birthdays. As a Catholic school, St. John's requires organizations to participate in at least two philanthropic events per semester, but Tsatsis said his fraternity was already going to meet that goal without the hospital visit.

As one volunteer, Anaeli Sandoval, a junior and vice president of Lambda Phi, said: "We like to help out within the community."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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