HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – A sold-out comedy show in Hattiesburg is raising funds to create a space for Children’s of Mississippi patients to laugh and play.
The Laughs 4 Life room inside the state’s only children’s hospital will be staffed by child life professionals skilled in helping children cope with the challenges of illness and injury. The state-of-the-art room will include interactive sensory equipment, games, music and art. Child life specialists will also incorporate medical play in activities to help reduce the anxiety children may face during upcoming procedures.
“While Laughs 4 Life began as an endeavor to raise funds and awareness for cancer research, at its core it’s about providing smiles during life’s most difficult challenges,” said Laughs 4 Life founder Kent Oliver of Hattiesburg. “The patient experience is a critical component to a successful health care outcome, and the ability to partner with the Child Life team at Children’s presented a wonderful opportunity to directly impact that experience.”
This year’s Laughs 4 Life show, featuring headliner Leanne Morgan, “Saturday Night Live” cast member James Austin Johnson and openers Keith Alberstadt and native Mississippian Jamie Arrington, will be held at the historic Saenger Theater in downtown Hattiesburg on July 29.
Laughs 4 Life contributions to this project will surpass $200,000 with funds raised through this year’s event.
“Our sincere hope is that this unique space brings smiles and joy to the patients and families at Children’s of Mississippi for years to come,” he said.
Laughter helps the healing process, said Tiffany Key, a Children’s of Mississippi child life specialist. “The annual Laughs 4 Life show brings smiles for an evening but will bring our patients smiles all year with this project. We are so thankful to have the support of Laughs 4 Life and Kent Oliver.”
Children’s of Mississippi patients and staff are showing their support for the fundraiser by making their own comedy video that will be shown during the evening.
To date, Laughs 4 Life has distributed more than $840,000 to beneficiaries including Children’s of Mississippi, the International Myeloma Foundation and the Forrest General Hospital Cancer Center. The annual event has included the comedic talents of Bill Engvall, Tig Notaro and Nate Bargatze over the years.
A night of laughter got its start from a frightening diagnosis.
“The initial spark for Laughs 4 Life came in 2016, several months after I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer of the blood, multiple myeloma,” Oliver said. “I was recovering from a stem cell transplant and was joined by a good friend who reminded me how much laughter truly matters. For several months following my diagnosis, laughter had become noticeably absent in our household. It was difficult to find smiles during that time for me and my family, and we felt the need to do something intentional to prioritize laughter.”
More than six years after the transplant and looking forward to the sixth Laughs 4 Life event, Oliver is living comfortably with maintenance therapy and enjoying life with his family in Hattiesburg.
“Each year the bar has been raised,” he said, “and it has been a joy to put this event together for the benefit of our community and our incredible partner organizations.”