Author Katie Watts, Children’s National Health System’s daytime team leader for Volunteer Services, writes about what it’s like to be a volunteer at a pediatric hospital with the help of volunteer David Garr.
Every day, patients from all over the region come to Children’s National for care. Some will only be here for a short time, while others will be admitted and stay overnight. Luckily, we have a program, called Volunteer Services, full of people who are specially trained and committed to relieving stress and boredom by interacting with patients and their siblings in unit playrooms, at their bedside, in clinic waiting rooms, the Surgery Center, and in the Emergency Department.
Offering activities and companionship to patients
The Art Cart, patient playdates, special events, and bedside visits have become some of our most popular activities. All of these allow for one-on-one interactions in a way that is beneficial for the kids.
We fill the Art Cart with coloring books, art supplies, books, and magazines and take it to the Emergency Department for patients to play with while they are waiting to see a doctor. Volunteers also interact with the children during patient playdates or bedside visits. By spending time with the children and making them smile, volunteers can make an impact during a child’s stay at the hospital. It can also give the parents a short break from their child’s hospital room or trying to entertain them.
“My goal while volunteering is always to make a patient laugh,” said volunteer David Garr. “It’s rewarding when I hear a parent or hospital staff member tell me that after a visit the patient smiled or laughed for the first time since being admitted.”
How volunteers can help parents
As volunteers, we are also there to make the parents feel a sense of comfort if they have to leave the hospital. They know that if they need to leave, someone will be there to spend time with their child so they are not lonely or scared. Whether it is giving their child a toy, giving them a break, or just simply distracting their child, parents are grateful for the assistance we provide.
An opportunity to help others
Volunteers also enjoy their time with the patients and their families. They say that the experience is rewarding, which is why many have been volunteers for years.
“After playing with one girl and getting ready to leave, I told her that I hoped she felt better. She looked confidently at me and said, ‘It’s okay. While I’m under construction now, I will be back and better than ever soon’,” added Garr. “This was an 8-year-old girl who had the confidence of an adult. I am always shocked by how positive and confident the children are able to stay while being in a hospital.”
Learn more about volunteering at Children’s National.