In a broadcast studio in an unlikely location — Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford — Mat Vido is warming up his young TV audience.
"Hi everyone! We are going to be playing an awesome game with you today called 'Dissolving Squares!" Vido says on camera.
With headphones on, he and co-host Brianna Chambers sit in front of a green screen on which blue squares are being digitally superimposed.
"Behind us you see all of these blue squares. We are going to slowly dissolve each square, and you are going to need to call in to guess which character is behind the squares," Vido explains. "Do you think that's simple enough? Let's get started with our very first square!"
A square dissolves on screen, and across the hospital, patients are watching in their rooms. In the studio, Vido sees that two children have already phoned in to guess, a fact he cheerfully mentions to his viewers before speaking to the first caller.
"Hello! Which character do you think is behind these squares?" Vido says.
"Elsa!" a young patient responds.
"Elsa! You think Elsa?"
On they go, chatting about the movie "Frozen" and their favorite characters, Vido every bit the gregarious quiz show host.
Twice a day, at noon and 4 p.m., Vido and Chambers host live shows for the children in the hospital. The programs typically consist of either tutorials, games or radio shows, Chambers said. Occasionally, guests come in for patients to interview. Some of the show's past guests include the Harlem Globetrotters, members of Stanford University athletic teams and Santa Claus.
Opened last October, Sophie's Place Broadcast Studio is tucked away at the end of the hospital's main lobby. It was funded by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and his wife, Barb, through their Forever Young Foundation. Three other hospitals across the nation also have a Sophie's Place, named after the late singer-songwriter Sophie Barton. Unlike at Stanford, those are focused on music therapy.
At Stanford, the studio looks like a typical broadcast set, with microphones on stands, plenty of computers and giant sound boards. Both live and pre-recorded programs stream through the hospital's closed-circuit television channel.
"We have game shows like bingo, Jeopardy! and charades," Chambers said. "For our radio talk show, we sit around and discuss different topics such as 'Would You Rather,' our favorite Disney movie or whatever the patient wants to talk about. We try to make the shows as interactive as possible so it would occupy their attention."
Patients aren't just audience members at Sophie's Place. They can host a program or help with production behind the scenes, too, according to Chambers.
The studio encourages patients' involvement through a reward system. For each time they participate, they get a star, Chambers said. When patients have five stars, they get a prize. For the first time calling in, they can get headphones, sunglasses or drawstring bags.
"That gets them really excited," she said.
Chambers noted that many of the patients are at the hospital for extended stays or are in isolation and cannot leave their rooms. As such, the show gives children a sense that they are not alone and allows them to see other children who might have a similar diagnosis or are also receiving treatment at the hospital.
Myra Punia, an 11-year-old oncology patient, looks forward to watching each show and has hosted it several times. Her favorite part of hosting is calling other patients and talking to them about their interests.
"Being on the show makes me feel normal, and it is really fun," Myra said. "Mat and Brianna are super nice, and I appreciate how they always invite me to host. I like it when we play games such as Pictionary and bingo."
Fifteen-year-old Kaileigh Rocca is another patient who has been extremely involved in the show. According to her father, Frank Rocca, she has hosted more than a dozen times in the past six months. He said that she was initially very shy, but the show has helped her become more outgoing.
"Sophie's Place has had such a positive impact on her," he said. "She loves coming down to host and has become a lot less introverted. She has also become interested ... in video editing and production."
Chambers said some of her most memorable moments on the show have involved kids who were shy in the beginning and later wanted to host every day. She appreciates being able to help patients grow, build confidence and feel empowered, she said.
"She (Kaileigh) comes down every day and asks if she can help," Chambers said. "To know that this is a kid at one point who was a little shy and now is comfortable on a larger scale — watching her ... host her own shows, that's super powerful and brings me pride. Every time I see a kid with that growth, it reminds me that this is what I should be doing."
Frank Rocca said that every hospital that treats kids should have a program similar to Stanford's Sophie's Place because it offers them a fun distraction and gives them some normalcy.
"It's really common for kids at hospitals to feel isolated and think that they are the only one experiencing this," he said. "The show helps them understand that they are not alone and that there are other kids, parents and staff here for them."
In the future, Chambers hopes to see the program expand through hosting more shows and bringing in a variety of guests.
"We would love to see our programs grow in number," Chambers said. "It would be great to have more people in the community donate materials for tutorials or connect us with some interesting guests."
Daniel Li is a former intern for the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online. Editor Jocelyn Dong contributed to this report.