Jessica Angel was a volunteer at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital in Southern California in 2004 when a 7-year-old leukemia patient caught her eye. “He wore his Spider-Man pajamas every day,” she recalls. But the Spidey fan said he wouldn’t be able to see Spider-Man 2 because his weakened immune system made it dangerous for him to go to a crowded theater. “He died before the movie came out,” says Angel, 22, a licensing assistant at Warner Bros. “It hit me how much children like him don’t get to enjoy even the normal things.”
With $1,000 seed money and some contacts from her father, Dan, a screenwriter and producer, in 2005 she founded Reel Angels, a nonprofit that sets up screenings of first-run movies at children’s hospitals. It wasn’t easy: She had to link up with a technology-security firm to allay piracy concerns and use all her powers of persuasion to convince studio executives that the kids she was trying to help might not live even the six months until the DVD came out.
So far Angel has held screenings of five movies—including Robots and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D—at four children’s hospitals in California and Texas. It looks like she has a hit on her hands. “I’ve never gone to the movies,” says Amy Cowan, a 13-year-old cystic fibrosis patient who attended a screening of Yours, Mine & Ours at Loma Linda in January. “I loved it.” Keith Fowler, 12, who has cancer, adds, “I got to laugh—not what I usually do in the hospital.”