It all started in Room 727 in the Morgenstern dorm at Yeshiva University. One morning in 1996, Joe Weilgus ’99SB, then an undergraduate at YU, went to visit a friend in the hospital. He happened to pass the pediatric wing and noticed many patients alone in their rooms with nothing to do. He was a busy guy, balancing a dual curriculum of Jewish studies and business courses and could have ignored what he saw that morning at the hospital.
Instead, because he has, as he said, “a strong desire to improve the lives of others” (an aspiration instilled in him by his parents, who told him to follow the teaching that “in a place where there is no person, be that person”), he went back to his dorm room and created Project Sunshine.
Fast-forward to 2019. Project Sunshine has grown to a global network of over 18,000 dedicated volunteers that brings interactive programs and activity kits to hospitals that promote play, support the social and emotional needs of patients and, most importantly, give tremendous joy to over 150,000 patients and their families in over 325 medical facilities in five countries.
As founder and CEO of New Legacy Group, an investment advisory firm, Weilgus oversees a multinational company with investment funds spread across the United States, Europe, Israel and China, serves as an adviser to top-tier companies and collaborates with key global industry leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. Yet without a doubt, his proudest accomplishment is his founding of Project Sunshine, an organization that not only improves the lives of sick children but also the lives of the thousands of volunteers who devote their time to bringing a smile to children’s faces.
“Our volunteers enhance lives while enhancing their own,” said Weilgus, and he credits part of Project Sunshine’s enormous success to the values he learned at YU, where he was encouraged to improve the world and make a difference. He speaks with deep admiration of the devotion of his fellow YU students, Project Sunshine’s first volunteers, who helped him get the organization o. the ground in the days when he called Room 727 his home.
Back in 1996, Weilgus saw a need and helped fill it. “Being able to bring some normalcy to these kids during what is a most challenging time in their lives and being at the center of a program that just lets kids be kids has been a dream come true for me.”