-- All work and no play is definitely not a motto construction worker Jason Haney is living by.
Haney is helping build a new wing on Memorial Children’s Hospital in South Bend, Indiana, but he’s already giving back so much more to the young patients than a new facility. As he works on the construction site, Haney plays an epic game of “Where’s Waldo?” with the children who try to spot the 8-foot-tall character from their hospital windows each time he hides it in a new location.
“I’ve been watching the kids run over to the window and look out for Waldo,” Heidi Prescott, the hospital’s media relations specialist, told ABC News. “On a daily basis, our pediatric patients, they look forward to going to the windows in their playrooms in their unit to try to figure out "Where’s Waldo?" It usually only takes a few minutes before they see him peering out of the big scaffolding, but it truly brightens their day.”
Haney built the red and white striped character along with his teenage daughter, who was his inspiration for the game in the first place. His family knew all-too-well what it felt like to have a child cooped up in the hospital for extended periods of time.
“My daughter, she had a stroke when my wife was carrying her in utero,” Haney explained. “When she was about 3, we noticed something wasn’t quite right. They did a CAT scan and they found out there was brain damage and were talking about her in the fact that she wouldn’t learn past the third grade level, and it just devastated us."
Fortunately, her progress was better than expected.
“She’s 18 now and going to be starting Ball State next year,” he proudly added. “She graduated with honors. There goes that third grade level thing that first doctor told us.”
His life-size version of hide-and-seek with Waldo has breathed fresh air into the children’s hospital.
“This construction foreman is really touching lives,” said Prescott. “He’s really bringing this character to life for them and it’s so recognizable, it just makes them forget all their worries and their pain for a few minutes, which is tremendous.”
It all started this past winter when Haney built a snowman on the construction site with a hard hat and reflector vest for the children to see outside of their windows.
“It was a huge hit,” he said. “After that, it didn’t snow as much so the construction management team got some inflatable snowmen and an inflatable Sponge Bob, so I went over there and put that up. They lit up at night and would wave in the wind. As I was tying it down, one of the electricians was like, ‘It would be kind of funny if there was a "Where’s Waldo?"’”
The idea stuck with him and Haney immediately went home to cut the plywood into the character, and he’s been hiding him for the kids since April. The “Where’s Waldo?” game has grown to be so popular Haney even created a Facebook page dedicated to the search, where people can tag the photos once they’ve located him.
“That’s my way of finding out if they’ve found it,” he said.
And how often does he have to find a new location for Waldo?
“It depends on how well on I hide it,” Haney joked. “He is 8-feet-tall so he doesn’t fit in the scaffolding. I put him in elevators and hide him around the hospital, too.”
Unbeknownst to the children, he’s also working on finishing up four smaller Minion characters to start hiding.
“They’re easier to carry,” he said.
When construction on the new wing is finished in March 2017 and there is nowhere left to hide Waldo, Haney and some of his fellow workers are going to sign it for the kids to keep with them inside.
“I just did it so the kids could take their mind off what they’re doing,” he explained. “So they could get out of their room and walk over to the playroom and have a little bit fun. I’m just glad that they’re enjoying it and it’s helping. I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it.”