“Just” Playing!

Last summer I visited Lurie Children’s Hospital and had the opportunity to meet with members of their Child Life Staff. One of the people I met was the Director of Children’s Services. When she asked about my volunteering experience, I mentioned that I was completing my practicum and learning a lot about Child Life and working with kids in the hospital setting. I also shared that I was volunteering in a clinic’s waiting room. My responsibilities there included “just playing with the kids.” She immediately called me out on using the word just and encouraged me to not say “just” playing or “just” doing anything else. Because every experience is important.

In the past year, I have reflected on this advice many times. She was so firm against using the word “just.” And she was right, “just” minimizes things. It trivializes experiences. “Just” diminishes the importance of our work. You’re not “just” listening to someone, you are listening to that person. Being in the moment is so crucial, you listening to them could make a world of difference to that person who needs you. You don’t “just” volunteer, you volunteer. And that volunteering is something you should be proud of, it’s important.

I had an experience while volunteering at a Child Advocacy Center that reaffirmed for me the importance of play. One day while I was volunteering, a little boy came into the waiting room with one of his parents. The waiting room of the advocacy center was empty that day and so I spent my time playing with this little boy. We played Jenga, Sorry and other games while he and his parent waited to meet with members of the interdisciplinary staff. I didn’t think that our interaction was unusual. I played with kids in the waiting room all the time and this patient was no different. The way I saw it, I wasn’t providing any sort of specialized support. I was not prepping him for procedures or helping him cope with stress. I played with him to occupy his and my time while we were both in the waiting room.

When his parent was ready to go, the little boy asked that he stay longer so he could keep playing. His parent allowed him to stay a little longer before they needed to leave. As the little boy left, he told me that I was his best friend. We must have very different ideas of what a best friend is because I think of a best friend as someone who has been there for you for years and makes you laugh and have fun. But to that little boy, my playing with him meant I was his friend. I communicated with him through play. By “just” playing, I told him he was safe and loved. By allowing him to “just” choose the games he wanted to play with, I was able to give him back a sense of control. I was not “just” playing, I was playing.

“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings and grow.”

– Alfie Kohn

Fabulous Find Friday: Basket of Hope

Medicine is about more that drugs and machines. For people to heal, their souls need to be touched as well as their bodies. By caring for patients emotionally and mentally, we begin to care for the whole person instead of treating a diagnosis.

Basket of Hope does exactly this, they share games, toys, crafts and other items of comfort to patients who are diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses. Learn more about what goes into their baskets here

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Fabulous Find Friday: Splashes of Hope

Splashes of Hope is an organization that decorates hospital rooms through the help of both professional and volunteer artists. A hospital is a scary place with it’s beeping machines and cold and foreign rooms. Stuffed toys and fleece blankets can help, but the walls are often still white and cold. Splashes of Hope paints color and life on the walls. They create a warm and loving environment for patients and their families.

 

A Letter to My Volunteer Supervisors

Last week I turned in my volunteer badge and finished another volunteer position. After nine months of playing with the hospitalized children and cuddling babies, leaving was bittersweet. While I’m excited to start my internship next fall, I am going to miss being an inpatient volunteer.

Organizations are often so thankful for their volunteers. They say that they couldn’t do what they do without their volunteers. Their volunteers are the most important part of their group. Speaking as a volunteer, I want to thank the groups that have allowed me to volunteer for them.

If I could, I would just volunteer for the rest of my life and not get a paying job. Because I was not left a multi-million dollar trust fund, I am going to have to get a job eventually. But I don’t think that I will ever stop volunteering, because it’s honestly the best job I’ve ever had. Knowing that I am playing a part in making a difference in someone else’s life is one of the best feelings in the world.

There are numerous health benefits associated with volunteering. The Corporation for National and Community Service published a review of recent research about these health benefits. You can read all 20 pages here. In short, volunteers have better physical and mental health. In the introduction to this research, volunteers are reported to have “lower mortality rates.” So thank you to my volunteer supervisor for keeping me alive!

One of the joys of volunteering is being able to do tasks that employees don’t have time for. In the past, this has meant cleaning toys, labeling them, running errands or delivering messages. Why do I enjoy this? Someone has to do these tasks and although they aren’t the most glamorous part of the volunteer position, they are necessary. By cleaning the toys, it means the child life specialists have more time to dedicate to their patients. By running errands around the ER, staff can focus on caring for their patients.

There is minimal pressure or stress as a volunteer. It’s just a time to be present. You can be present to the survivor of trauma that you are supporting, you can play with your campers at summer camp, or you can cuddle babies who are alone and each of those are your only task. As a volunteer, you don’t have a long To Do list waiting for you to finish. Your job is to be present for those who need you, to listen and support. Your role is to take each task as the most important task and focus all your time and energy on that one person that needs you.

Going to a volunteer job is an opportunity to take a break from the crazy and hectic lives that we all live. I think that almost everyone is always being pulled a million different directions. When you show up as your volunteer appointment, you can put away and phone and stop worrying about everything you need to do when you return home. You can relax and spend time with others who need you. It’s a chance to love people for who they are and sit with them in their pain and their joy.

I want to finish by saying thank you to all my past volunteer supervisors and those that I will work with in the future. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to grow as a person! Thank you for giving me a chance to love and serve others! Thank you for letting me help you care for those in need! Thank you for inspiring me by the work you do! Thank you for opening the doors to new opportunities! I don’t think that either of us will know the full impact that my volunteer position with you had on my life, but I do know that I have grown as a person since volunteering with you. And I firmly believe that every life experience affects us, so thank you for having such a positive influence on my future. 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

Don’t Give Up!

This week I accepted a Fall Child Life Internship! I’m so excited for what this next chapter of my Child Life journey is going to bring.

I could use this blog post to tell you all about how excited I am, how relieved that the internship application process is over or about my plans for next semester. All of this is happening, but instead I want to speak to those who did not get an internship offer.

If you don’t get an internship, don’t give up! If you truly are passionate about Child Life and want to become a Certified Child Life Specialist, then you will. It might just take a little longer than you expected. Child Life is very competitive. Some hospitals will receive over 75 applicants for their one internship position. So if you did not get an internship this semester, it means that you have time to expand your horizons and build your resume to make yourself more competitive next time.

If you looking for something to add to your experience, think about populations that you haven’t worked with yet. Maybe you have a lot of time spent with oncology patients, but you haven’t worked very many other diagnoses. Or you’ve worked with healthy kids, but don’t have much experience with children with special needs. A wide variety of experiences will give you many skills that can be used when working with kids as a Child Life Specialist. If you’re looking for something new, check out my list for getting volunteer experience. Let me know if you have other ideas that I can add to the list!

“No one has the power to shatter your dreams unless you give it to them.” – Maeve Greyson

Fabulous Find Friday: Beads of Courage

If you are in the hospital, especially if you are in oncology, you have probably already heard of Beads of Courage. If not, you really should know about the program.

Beads of Courage are beads that are given to patients to represent each procedure they undergo. They are a visible symbol of a patient’s journey. You can find out more about the beads of courage program here.

Fabulous Find Friday: Holistic Life Foundation

If you’re on social media, you might have already heard about the school in Maryland that has replace detention with meditation. The following video talks about their work:

 

The Holistic Life Foundation focuses on children in schools but the same lessons could be applied to children in the hospital setting. Yoga and meditation can help a child calm down and de-stress. It can also help manage behavioral problems. Leading a child in deep breathing can be an easy way to infuse calming practices into your work with children, regardless of what setting you work in.

 

Fabulous Find Friday: Sara’s Smiles Foundation

Today’s spotlight is on the Sara’s Smiles Foundation. They are an organization that put together kits for children who are fighting cancer. Their inspiration kit includes the following:

  • A file for important papers
  • A form letter to notify and reach out to friends, family and community
  • A tote bag to carry items throughout the hospital
  • Reusable Sticker Corners to display photos, artwork, etc. on walls
  • A door hanger and washable markers to personalize one’s room
  • A squeeze toy for stress release
  • An art pad for self-expression
  • A “Picture Me Proud” Card to share milestones and/or special accomplishments
  • Small Toys for amusement and distraction
  • A “Follow Us” Card to share pictures and stories with Sara’s Smiles

Visit their site to learn more about resources for kids with Cancer and to order kits: http://www.saras-smiles.org/links.htm

 

Fabulous Find Friday: Do It For The Love Foundation

Instead of telling you about today’s find, I’m going to let the founders of this organization explain it to you.

 

The Vision of the Do It For the Love Foundation:

WHY WE DO IT

Do It For The Love is a wish-granting nonprofit organization that brings people living with life-threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges and wounded veterans to live concerts. Through the healing power of music, our goal is to inspire joy, hope and lasting celebratory memories in the face of severe illness or trauma.

 Music helps us feel alive!

Music speaks louder then words, so be sure to check them out!