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Making a Difference for Children

Making a Difference for Children

The Ryan Seacrest Foundation, led by Meredith Seacrest Leach '99, celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2020 since launching its first studio at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

As Executive Director and COO of the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, Meredith Seacrest Leach ’99 helps children and their families through some of the most challenging days of their lives. The Foundation, led by Leach, builds Seacrest Studios multimedia centers in children’s hospitals across the country, providing young people who are patients at these facilities with the opportunity to explore a real broadcast studio, learn about media, create their own radio and TV programs, play games, interview a wide variety of guests and even rub elbows with celebrities from time to time.

“The studios give patients a place to feel like they’re not in the hospital and hopefully forget about their treatment, even for a little while,” Ms. Leach said. “It also allows them to be in control of something when their life can be feeling out of control.”

Hospital stays typically include a good bit of down time, a lot of waiting for the next appointment and boredom to a degree. Working in the studio gives children something productive to do but also an education in a different field. Children have created sports shows and insect-themed shows, held lip-sync battles and enjoyed experiences they might not typically encounter. For example, many have monthly visits with animal trainers from nearby zoos. Children who are in treatments that limit their contact with people can watch and listen to the programs from their rooms and even call in to participate on air.

“The studio has really become an indirect form of therapy. It’s a fun place for kids to escape and hang out but it also tests their abilities outside of their room or physical therapy sessions,” Ms. Leach said.

In 2017, Leach and her husband Jimmy relocated from Los Angeles to Nashville, where the Foundation is now headquartered. They welcomed their first child Flora Marie, who was born Dec. 10, 2018. With offices near Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, the Foundation has been able to take advantage of many local partnerships to support the studio there as well as the Foundation and its nine other studio locations. The relocation also brought Leach closer to her parents, who still live in Atlanta, and HIES friends in the area.

While area athletes and artists in the music industry frequent the Seacrest Studios at the Vanderbilt Hospital, Nashville also draws major events such as the 2019 NFL Draft, during which “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota visited the studio. As many artists build time into their schedules to do charitable work, the in-hospital studios in the 10 different cities have provided them with a means to visit a lot of young people in a short amount of time. Guests at the various Seacrest Studios have included musicians Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift (in photo at left), Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X and Nick Jonas, dancer Derek Hough, actor Zachary Levi and many Disney Channel cast members.

The Foundation, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2020 since launching its first studio at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, now works with about 90 colleges and universities to recruit interns to work in Seacrest Studios. More than 1,000 students, some of whom are former patients, have interned in a studio and some later launched careers in entertainment or journalism. Students interested in internships and hospitals looking to bring a studio to their facility may submit an application at ryanseacrestfoundation.org.

“I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do. I walk into work each day with one goal: helping kids heal,” Ms. Leach said. “What my family has been able to create together is more than I could have ever dreamed of.”

As for her famous brother Ryan Seacrest, who holds multiple jobs these days, his passion keeps everyone going.

“People are always amazed by the amount of jobs Ryan is able to juggle,” Ms. Leach said. “He has excellent time management skills! However, in the midst of all he does and has been fortunate to experience, the Foundation is truly what is most meaningful to him. His ultimate mission, along with our family, is to help young patients feel like superstars and make a positive impact on their recovery.”

Reflecting on her HIES years, Leach said, “I loved that our class size wasn’t too big and it allowed for our daily classes to be more intimate. I always felt like I knew my teachers and could get extra learning assistance if needed. I also loved that our class size allowed for me to take part in several different sports and activities that I may have not been able to do if I were at a larger school. I got a chance to try a variety of extracurricular activities and really learn where I had better strengths and areas I could improve upon, which carried with me once I left high school.”