Starlight kid Khalil with a VR headset

Starlight’s History of Delivering Happiness

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

It all started with a gesture to help one seriously ill child, from fourth-generation filmmaker Peter Samuelson and his cousin, actress Emma Samms. 

 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.

Emma’s younger brother Jamie, had lived with aplastic anemia before succumbing to the illness when he was still a child. Years later, Emma was moved by a visit to a seriously ill young boy named Sean, who was hospitalized with a brain tumor. After learning that Sean had a dream of going to Disneyland, Emma and Peter fulfilled his wish by arranging for his travel from London to Los Angeles to visit the happiest place on earth with his mother. 

Delivering that gift of happiness to Sean was the start of Starlight, which was named after the nursery rhyme poem (“Star light, star bright/ First star I see tonight / I wish I may, I wish I might/ Have this wish I wish tonight”). While it was launched as a wish-granting organization, Starlight began to expand its offerings with even more ways of delivering happiness for kids and their families -- with entertainment, activities, and other services provided right in the hospital settings. 

Now, we deliver happiness to thousands of hospitalized kids like Sean at more than 800 children’s hospitals and health care facilities in the U.S., with our fun, state-of-the-art programs like Starlight Virtual Reality, Starlight Hospital Wear, and Starlight Gaming. 

We are proud to report that Starlight has brought smiles to more than 16 million seriously ill children and their families in the U.S. -- at no cost to the kids or our hospital partners. 

Here’s a timeline of our organization’s highlights:


  • First Starlight wish is granted by Peter Samuelson and Emma Samms. 


  • Starlight incorporates as a 501(c)3 in the United States on February 2. 


  • Starlight launches in the UK. 


  • Starlight launches in Australia. 


  • Starlight launches in Canada 


  • Starlight opens its first Starlight Space in Los Angeles. 


  • Starlight launches its Starlight Gaming program in partnership with Nintendo of America; the Starlight Fun Center brings the healing power of play to hospitalized kids by providing easy access to their favorite video games, movies, TV shows, and more. 


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


  • Explorer Series® is launched as an interactive multimedia program that educates children about medical procedures and illnesses. 

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


  • Quest for the Code® is launched as an online game to help children and teens learn how to manage their asthma, find coping tips, and get advice. 


  • The X-Men® in: Life Lessons is 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® launches 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. 


  • Get Fit, Get Right® launches as an online program designed to reduce obesity in teens and help prevent type 2 diabetes. 


  • Starlight launches its e-commerce platform that connects, supports, and delivers its programs to more than 800 hospital partners and health care facilities across the U.S. 


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

  • Starlight launches 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.  

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).

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