When James and Christian Delligatti saw how much playing games on an iPad calmed their young cousin as she underwent cancer treatments, they thought that other children also might benefit from the distraction.
So the McCandless brothers, both students at North Allegheny Senior High School, started a project called Lilli's Happy Pad, raised money to buy iPads and last Thursday opened a lending library for the tablets at the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh, which provides temporary housing for families of children who are patients at local hospitals.
Lilli's Happy Pad is named for the brothers' cousin, Lilli Curry of Houston, Texas, who was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2011. She and her brother, Chas, received iPads as gifts from the Delligatti family. "She really enjoyed it. She had a ton of fun with it. It distracted her with her treatments," said James, 18.
He and Christian, 16, thought such a distraction would be helpful for other children dealing with illness.
Christian used his knowledge from his membership in North Allegheny's Future Business Leaders of America club to write a business plan, and the brothers proposed the idea to Ronald McDonald House staff.
"It just really took off from there," Christian said. "We raised money and we wrote grants and we dug up money to buy iPads, a charging station and a MacBook Air," which will be used to coordinate accounts for all the iPads.
The Lilli's Happy Pad project received a $5,000 grant from the Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation to help with the costs.
So far, the brothers raised enough to buy 21 iPads and cases, numerous programs or apps, a cart for synchronizing and charging the units, games and movies and all the supporting equipment that the Ronald McDonald House staff will need to run the library.
They also arranged for technical support and discounted bulk apps from the Apple Store in Ross Park Mall.
James said the iPads have PBS and other educational applications as well as Caring Bridge, a blog app that many patients use to update their status and talk to friends.
Christian said they asked Lilli and Chas what apps they enjoy and then the brothers did online research on apps for various age groups.
"We are also going to survey the families to see what they want. It's all about the families and we want to see what they want, see what they think is appropriate," James said.
Christian said they will add books, movies or music if requested by a family.
"What a positive impact this will have on the healing process of our families," said Eleanor Reigel, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Michael Shulock, child life specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, said the "distraction and normalization that the iPad can provide is a huge benefit.
"It's a great tool to keep in touch with family and friends, pass the time with the game apps, and patients can even utilize the learning components that it offers. This is a great initiative that these boys are starting."
James will be a senior and Christian a junior at North Allegheny Senior High School in the fall. Both play on the football team and both work at the McDonald's in Cranberry. James is also a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Club.
James said they would like to have 60 iPads for the local Ronald McDonald House and would like to expand the program to each of the more than 300 McDonald houses worldwide.
The Delligatti family has a long history with McDonald's and its charities. Grandfather Jim Delligatti was a McDonald's franchise owner in Uniontown in 1967 when he invented the Big Mac. He was also co-founder of the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh in 1979.
The boys' father, Michael Delligatti, is a board member of the Ronald McDonald House, and their mother, Twilley, has chaired fundraising events for the charity.
The Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh has 60 one-bedroom apartments for families who travel from out of state to get medical care for their children. It is connected to Children's Hospital by a pedestrian bridge.
To donate to the Lilli's Happy Pad: www.rmhpgh.org and click on "donate now" or call 412-362-3400 and follow the prompts.