40 Years of Delivering Happiness

Since 1982, Starlight has been delivering happiness to seriously ill children and their families.   

It all began with a gesture to help one seriously ill child. Co-founders Peter Samuelson and Emma Samms fulfilled a child’s wish to visit Disneyland and at that moment, Starlight’s mission became clear — to channel the transformative power of a smile and bring emotional healing to children experiencing illness. 

 Peter Samuelson with family in hospital
Co-founder Peter Samuelson visiting a Starlight family in the hospital
Emma Samms posing with Dave Koz
Co-founder Emma Samms, posing for a photo with longtime Starlight ambassador and Grammy-nominated saxophonist, Dave Koz.

40 years later, Starlight Programs continue to bring smiles to millions of kids across the country. As our understanding of technology, children’s health, and the power of play has evolved, our offerings have expanded to address the diverse challenges of hospitalized kids. Through our signature programs — Gaming, Virtual Reality, Hospital Wear, and Deliveries — Starlight has brought comfort to more than 21 million kids in over 800 hospitals through the healing power of play, directly in the hospital setting, at no cost to the hospital.

Starlight is proud of what we have accomplished in 40 years. Take a look back at some of our most pivotal moments:


  • The first Starlight wish was granted by Peter Samuelson and Emma Samms to a seriously ill boy, Sean, who was hospitalized with a brain tumor.


  • Starlight was incorporated as a 501(c)3 in the United States on February 2. Beginning as a wish-granting organization bringing smiles to sick kids through special experiences, Peter and Emma drew inspiration for Starlight’s name from the popular poem, Star Light, Star Bright.


  • Starlight goes global! Launching in the UK in 1986, followed by Australia and Canada in 1988 and 1989. While all Starlight organizations operate independently from one another, we remain united in our mission to deliver happiness to seriously ill kids.  


  • Starlight opened its first Starlight Space in Los Angeles. This innovative, state-of-the-art, and interactive environment became a place where kids and families could relax and enjoy time together in the hospital.


  • Starlight Gaming launched in partnership with Nintendo of America. The original Starlight Gaming Station, featuring a Nintendo NES, brought the healing power of play to hospitalized kids by providing easy access to their favorite video games, movies, and more.


  • Starbright World launched through Starlight by Steven Spielberg, Peter Samuelson, and General H. Normal Schwarzkopf. It was the first-ever private social network for teens with chronic and life-threatening medical conditions.


  • Starlight moved further into the future of technology! Explorer Series® was launched as an interactive multimedia program that educated children about medical procedures and illnesses.

  • PC Pals® launched, providing laptops for pediatric patients.


  • Quest for the Code® launched as Starlight’s second online experience to help children and teens learn how to manage their asthma, find coping tips, and get advice.


  •  The X-Men® in: Life Lessons launched as a comic book to help kids and teens recover emotionally from serious burn injuries and cope with teasing and staring as they re-enter society.


  • Coping with Chemo® launched as a series of online animated web episodes to help children and teens with cancer learn how to cope with the challenges of their illness and undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments.  


  • Starlight launched The Hub, an e-commerce platform that enables hospitals to request exactly what they need for their patients, allowing for streamlined program distribution to an interconnected network of Starlight Hospitals across the country. 


  • Starlight launched its Starlight Hospital Wear program with the introduction of fun, comfy, and colorful Starlight Gowns as a replacement for traditional hospital gowns.  

  • Starlight launched its Starlight Virtual Reality program in collaboration with The Walt Disney Company, Star Wars: Force for Change, Google, and Lenovo to transform the hospital experience for kids through the power of VR. 


  • Starlight and Nintendo of America unveiled the newest addition to our longtime Gaming program: the Starlight Nintendo Switch Gaming Station.

  • Starlight launched the first Stream For Starlight campaign, uniting content creators, 
    gamers, and individuals to stream content and raise money to deliver happiness 
    to seriously ill kids.

  • Mickey & Friends-themed Starlight Gowns were added to the Starlight Gown rotation and delivered to hospitals across the country.


  • Starlight launched itsCommitment for Changeinitiative in response to racial injustices, which continue to impact communities today. This initiative prioritizes placing more programs in hospitals for medically underserved and vulnerable populations

  • ESPN & Frozen-themed Starlight Gowns were added to the Starlight Gown rotation and began being delivered to hospitals across the country.


  • The  Starlight Nintendo Switch Handheld debuted to provide a more portable iteration of the Gaming station, which allows healthcare professionals more flexibility in the type of situations that they can utilize. 

  • As part of Disney’s Ultimate Princess Celebration, Starlight and Disney teamed up to add Princess-themed hospital gowns to Starlight’s Hospital Wear collection.


A seriously ill child enjoying video games on our Starlight Nintendo 64 console in the hospital (1998).
A seriously ill child enjoying video games on our Starlight Nintendo 64 console in the hospital (1998).
Actress Dakota Fanning visiting a seriously ill kid in the hospital (2006).
Actress Dakota Fanning visiting a seriously ill kid in the hospital (2006).
Starlight Tablets put the power of technology in kids’ hands (2014).
Starlight Tablets put the power of technology in kids’ hands (2014).

We know there is still more to come for Starlight, but we can’t do it without incredible donors like you! Are you ready to further our impact?

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