Volunteers Sought to Give that Personal Touch

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Golisano Children’s Hospital

If you live in Southwest Florida for any part of the year, then undoubtedly you have heard of the soon-to-be-opened, state-of-the-art Golisano Children’s Hospital.

An integral part of the Lee Health network of hospitals, clinics and other health services centers in the area, the Children’s Hospital opened in 1994 at the HealthPark Medical Center on Bass Road. The long-range goal was to build a state-of-the-art hospital for children, and when B. Thomas Golisano gave a sizable donation during the fund-raising campaign, the hospital was renamed for its most generous benefactor. After many years of dedication on the part of those who contributed to the establishment of the only facility of its kind between Miami and Tampa, Golisano Children’s Hospital is slated to open this spring, on May 10th.

 

Not Just a Hospital

This is not ‘just a hospital’ for seriously sick and injured children. There are 70 Pediatric Specialists, 400-plus specially trained pediatric nurses, six child life specialists, a dedicated hematology/oncology program, the region’s only state-designated Regional Perinatal Intensive Care Center ranked Number One in the state of Florida based on the outcomes of premature infants, the only state-designated Cystic Fibrosis Center in the region, the regional referral center for sickle cell anemia, the Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Center program that takes care of children with complex special needs so their parents can work during the day, a specialized school teacher on staff to ensure sick kids don’t fall behind in their schoolwork, the Child Advocacy Program that provides support and education to more than 95,000 people in Lee and Collier counties, two dedicated transport ambulances and a pediatric and neonatal transport team always available to bring critically ill children to Golisano from anywhere in the region – these are the ‘bones’ of this exceptional facility.  The heart and soul of Golisano, however, is its people – the highly skilled staff, the generous donors and the dedicated volunteers.

Golisano volunteers are recruited and overseen by Prisca Asaro, supervisor of Volunteer Resources at the children’s hospital. She has a vitality and warmth that informs her every word. Asaro and Pat Dolce, Lee Health system’s Public Affairs Specialist, sat down with the Sand Paper this week at HealthPark to talk about the many ways one could contribute to the well-being of the children and their families who come to Golisano for treatment.

“Volunteers can provide an extra personal touch, while also having the opportunity to give back.” Asaro explains further. “You always want to give back, in memory of someone you loved,” or as a kind of pay-it-forward for those whose hospital experience was ultimately very good. Asaro had a life-defining experience while her young nephew was in the hospital fighting for his life which had a huge impact on her career choices, leading ultimately to overseeing an army of hospital volunteers. “Personal sympathies and compassion is something our volunteers are able to provide. It’s part of healing process.”

 

Year-Round Residents Needed First

In the entire Lee Health system, there are thousands of volunteers serving. Hundreds serve at HealthPark. When the new Golisano Children’s Hospital opens, there will be a need to fill 1000 four-hour shifts, or roughly 800 volunteers if each shift were covered by a separate individual. Currently, there are about 250 volunteers. They will need more to help deliver the myriad of services provided to patients and their families. Each Golisano volunteer will need to be able to commit to one four-hour shift per week, with a minimum commitment of six months.

Although there will be plenty of opportunity for seasonal residents to participate in the volunteer program at the new facility, the first group to be placed will have to be year-round residents in the area. “The grand opening is May 10th. We could have someone trained and ready to go, only to leave just as the hospital opens,” Asaro points out, adding, “Next season, when we get established, we’ll be able to place seasonal volunteers.”

Asaro says there are many retirees who give of their time and expertise, some working just one shift a week, some several times a week, and even one volunteer who comes in six days a week. “Most people think of a regularly scheduled and committed volunteer as someone who is retired. It is great for them; it allows them to make new friends and to be engaged in the community. But I am also interested in getting volunteers who are working full time; leaders of the community, and they’re starting to come in.” Business owners, executives, teachers – many are making the time available to be there.

High school and college students are also encouraged to volunteer; as soon as school breaks for the summer, the hospital administers an eight-week Student Training Program. “There are already nursing/medical students who volunteer at the hospital. A lot of them just want to be involved with the children, or are studying in the medical field. Their schedules can shift, and we can accommodate them. We are flexible. It’s a volunteer position, but it is vital to the success of helping our patients. We count on them.”

When Ms. Asaro interviews an applicant for any of the volunteer positions, she is looking first and foremost for someone with a strong desire to volunteer, not just to make their resume look more impressive. “I want them to be motivated by the desire to give. You don’t have to have any particular skill set, except to be able to interact with people, to know how to be around children, know how to soothe them – and the staff.” Asaro illuminates why the doctors and nurses also benefit from the TLC a volunteer can provide. “You know, they see the best and the worst doing their jobs, and sometimes they are stressed. So a volunteer isn’t there solely for the benefit of the patient, but for the whole environment. You want to have someone who is good around people, folks that are okay with seeing a sick child. They have to be able to come out of their own shell, and get the children engaged in something to help them kind of forget where they are and what they are dealing with every day.”

There are many who wish to help the children, but when faced with the reality of seeing a child sick and suffering, “it can be very difficult.” For those who are unable to deal with direct and intense interaction with the children, there are volunteer clerical and reception positions where one can put their computer, filing and phone skills to work. “Not all the positions are patient contact positions.”

 

Sunshine Ambassadors

A key volunteer position at Golisano is one of a Sunshine Ambassador. Informally referred to as a “floor parent,” there are two assigned to each of the seven floors on every shift. They know all the kids, their families and the staff that cares for them. When a visitor steps off the elevator at their floor, the Sunshine Ambassador will greet them and escort them to where they need to go. They provide a list of activities to the children each week, whether it’s a baseball team coming in, or a restaurant is bringing in special treats, or when Pet Therapy sessions will take place, or when the reading or art cart will be there for them, or when the music therapist will be there. “The Sunshine Ambassador knows everything about what is going on and interacts constantly with the patients, their families and other volunteers. It is a leadership role, and all Sunshine Ambassadors will be involved in all the Grand Opening events.” For this position alone, 244 volunteers will be needed to cover all the shifts; right now there are 19.

Asaro emphasizes that, regardless of one’s interests and skills, there will be a position that fits. In her mind, for many people, a volunteer position at Golisano will provide a balance in their lives.

“The only thing I can say is, we work so many hours doing our jobs that it’s very hard to find that balance, working for a living and doing something that’s good for your soul. Volunteers here find that balance. So many people work so hard that they don’t get that. This is the place to get it.”

 

Jo List

To become a volunteer at Golisano Children’s Hospital, go to www.LeeHealth.org/volunteer/index.asp and submit an application. Upon completion of your application, you will be scheduled to attend a three-hour orientation class. In addition, volunteers are required to complete a two-step tuberculosis test and blood work, be vaccinated for the flu and purchase a uniform shirt.