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Volunteers ease pressure on parents

July 26, 2012

Story by Adam Eisenbarth

Volunteers at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre are relieving some of the pressure for parents with children in the Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Units.

Caring Cuddlers is a request-based program run by the Volunteer Resources Department. Parents work with unit staff to set up sessions where volunteers can help whenever the parents can’t be with their children.

“I just find it so rewarding to make a difference for a family in need of some assistance,” says long-time cuddler Jody Dunn.

The program involves 33 volunteers with five more scheduled to join in the fall. All volunteers are screened to ensure that they have experience with children.

Darci Shave, Volunteer Resources coordinator, estimates that the program runs for 30 to 40 hours per year. “Even with a more casual focus, the volunteers provide an important service for parents in need of assistance.”

Serena Tremblay was one of those parents.

Two years ago she was dealing with complications following the birth of her second son, Jeffrey, and was wheelchair-bound for months.

Though Caring Cuddlers typically cares for children who are the patients themselves, the volunteers stepped in to assist Tremblay in caring for her newborn son while she focused on learning to walk again.

“Knowing that Jeffrey was safe and cared for while I was in therapy allowed me to focus entirely on getting home to my three-year-old son and spouse so we could be a whole family,” says Tremblay.

By assisting parents through tough times, volunteers clearly have had a positive effect on parents and their children, but they too benefit from the experience.

“My time as a Caring Cuddler was so great. Not only did I get to spend time with an awesome little guy, but I also got to know an incredibly strong woman and devoted mother. It was an inspiring experience,” says Julianne Knopp, one of the volunteers who assisted Tremblay.

Pediatric and NICU staff have been making sure to keep parents informed of the tremendous services offered by the volunteers so that they too can benefit from this small program that’s making a big difference.