Wailing on his guitar, Peter Dankleson had kiddos grooving and parents clapping.

Dankelson, who has had his fair share of treatment done at the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, kicked off the hospital’s annual cleft palate and craniofacial picnic with his story and a jam session.

This is an event that, according to pediatric plastic surgeon John Girotto, MD, gives kiddos a chance to be around each other. It lets them see they are not alone in the world, he said.

Each year, with the help of the Spectrum Health Foundation and community support like Russ’s Family Restaurant, the craniofacial plastic surgery team celebrates the journeys these kiddos and their families have been through.

Will Mannes said his family, especially his son, Landon, looks forward to events like this.

After four surgeries starting at just 3 months old, Landon hasn’t had one in years, yet he stills gets excited to be around kiddos like him, Mannes said.

Sporting yellow Toy Story sunglasses, Landon darted from the tie-dye shirt table to the inflatables.

“Hats off to them,” Mannes said, as he continued to sing praises of the children’s hospital staff for hosting such a great event each year and for being encouraging throughout their journey.

Mark and Lisa Ellison celebrated the day with their 17-year-old daughter, Olena, who lives with Treacher Collins syndrome. Lisa said they enjoy getting the chance to attend a gathering in Michigan with others who have similar facial abnormalities.

Robert Mann, MD, said the overarching goal is to be a center of excellence and part of these kiddos’ lives.

It’s much more than being there medically, Dr. Girotto said, but “being there from starting school to graduation and everything in between.”