IU fashion design students share their talents with Riley




Through the pain of her son’s cancer treatment, Bo Choi found purpose as she and her fashion design colleagues created a service-learning project for their students that will bring comfort to Riley kids.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

When Bo Choi’s little boy was a patient at Riley Hospital for Children last year, it was a scary, lonely time. COVID restrictions meant no one could visit, and Choi felt isolated in a time when she needed support more than ever.

Teddy toddler photo

Her son, Teddy, now 21 months, was being treated for leukemia, and she was reluctant to leave his side. Luckily for her, art therapist Emily Allbery encouraged her to try art therapy as a way to channel her emotions and explore creative expression.

Now, Choi is giving back to Riley for all it gave to her.

She and her fellow fashion design instructors at Indiana University-Bloomington worked with their students to complete a service-learning project last semester that benefits Riley patients and families.

Delivery of embroidered blankets and tote bags

On Friday, they delivered colorful, embroidered blankets and tote bags to Riley Cheer Guild Director Ann Hannan, who worked with the group to define the project and connect it to Riley’s mission.

“Through Bo and her son’s experience here at Riley, she knew firsthand what kinds of things were comforting to her and meaningful to Teddy,” Hannan said.

“Now she has spread that experience to her colleagues and to her students and has taken that service learning to the next level by making it about real people who have had real experiences here at Riley. You can’t get any better than that.”

Choi holds the Cheer Guild's tote bag

Choi said she received a lot of help from the Cheer Guild during her son’s time at Riley – toys, music and art therapy and companionship.

“When I think about that time, I get emotional,” she said. “Without those things, I don’t think I could have survived, especially in COVID times.”

When Allbery suggested Choi do something for herself, she tried embroidery, something she hadn’t done before. It helped clear her mind, she said, and she was able to create items for her son that brought them both happiness.

“I thought about combining these things – the Cheer Guild needs donations, and our students want to design and create things that are meaningful,” Choi said.

Hannan visited the design class twice via Zoom to give students a look behind the scenes at the Riley Toy Room and the supporting therapies that are offered to patients.

Fashion design Professor Deb Christiansen said Riley was a great partner for this service-learning experience, and she credited the Cheer Guild for helping make the project come alive for students.

Professor Lori Frye agreed, saying the students enjoyed being able to apply their skills to make something they knew would be valued.


Hannan said the donated blankets (which fold up into pillows) will be scanned in radiology to ensure no pins or needles were inadvertently left in the material.

“It’s just another way our Riley staff partner to keep our kids safe,” she said.

The wrapped blankets will be placed on the shelves of the toy room for distribution by child life specialists, therapists and nurses, who can give them to families to be taken home as a comfort item. Donated bedding items cannot be used in the hospital, though the tote bags can be used in the rooms.

Hannan feels blessed that the design students and their instructors were moved to donate to Riley.

“To have people who really care about the children here at Riley designing something for them so their experience can be as beautiful as possible means so much.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org