Children’s National Health System values the important roles volunteers play in caring for patients and their families. Acts as simple as reading a story, playing a game, or greeting a family can make a big difference in a child’s and family’s hospital experience.
Margaret Nassar, a volunteer with Children’s National, knew shortly after her son was born that one day she would become a volunteer. “My son had emergency surgery when he was two weeks old,” she says. “There was another baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with us who just cried and cried. He didn’t have any family to comfort him. I decided at that point that when I was able, I would volunteer in a children’s hospital so I could hold the babies who didn’t have anyone to hold them.”
With a professional history as a medical assistant in pediatrics, Nassar started as a patient care volunteer in the oncology unit with the Patient Care Volunteer Program at Children’s National in 2008. Now Nassar does a little bit of everything. “I start by greeting families and children in hallways and clinics as I make my way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I go there first to hold babies or help the nurses attend to the crying ones. Then I go to Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and then to the hematology and oncology department. I spend the rest of my day there with the kids and their families.”
Nassar admits that volunteering in a children’s hospital can be difficult emotionally. When she started her volunteer training, she requested to not work in the oncology department, because she was concerned it would be too emotional for her. But the oncology department needed volunteers, so Nassar agreed to give it a try. “And I loved it,” she remembers. “I have learned a tremendous amount from these children. They are as sick as can be and yet they want to play and read and spend time together. Yes, the work can be sad. But it’s also so gratifying. There’s not a more satisfying feeling than having an infant look up at you and smile or have a child come up and hug you and say, ‘Thank you for playing with me.’ It makes you just feel so good inside.”
Children have always been Nassar’s passion. One of her favorite volunteer memories from Children’s National was assisting with a special “prom night” for the children. Formal dresses, suits, jewelry, and shoes were donated by the community, and “a few days before the prom, the kids were invited to come to a special room and pick out their outfits. They all came to the prom dressed to the hilt! Three- and four-year-olds all the way up to teenagers who had missed their proms because of their illnesses. It was their night to shine!” The children were encouraged to bring dates, and most of them brought their parents. “And the kids would say, ‘I brought my hero as my date,’ ” recalled Nassar.
When asked whether she would encourage others to volunteer with Children’s National, Nassar didn’t hesitate. “Volunteering at Children’s National gives you a whole new look at life. You see life through a child’s eyes. They teach you what’s important and how to not be afraid. They really put everything in perspective.”