Volunteer Opportunity at Harlem Hospital
It’s 4:30pm and I haven’t finished my To-Do list for the day. Well, that’s not even entirely true- I haven’t finished it, but it’s because I didn’t have a chance to get it out of my bag. On the plus side, I did start the paperwork for pet therapy for my inpatient unit, spoke to several people about a grant for program funding for my outpatient clinic, ordered T-shirts for volunteers, and wrote “Child Life Department, Harlem Hospital: Please Return!” on every surface of three new distraction toys that I’m bringing for use in the pediatric emergency room. (Now that I think about it, why weren’t any of those things on my To-Do list in the first place, so I could cross them off now?) But I didn’t start writing any grants, I still haven’t laminated the prep book for the pre-surgical patients, I haven’t finished writing the prep book for radiology, and I didn’t get a chance to get over to the clinic to help out the staff there today.
I’m a child life specialist. I graduated with my master’s degree fromBankStreetCollege’s child life program in May 2011, and was hired byHarlemHospitalin August, in order to start a new child life department. I cover the inpatient unit, the PICU (pediatric intensive care), the burn unit, the outpatient clinic, and the pediatric emergency department. I am also in charge of fundraising for the department and bringing new programs and volunteers to all of the pediatric units.
Child life specialists promote optimal child and family development in a hospital setting, while trying to minimize the stress associated with hospitalization and invasive, painful, or bewildering medical procedures. Through play and developmentally-appropriate psychological preparation, child life interventions help to facilitate coping and adjustment during times of hospitalization that might feel initially overwhelming to children and their families. We use toys like sparkly magic wands, bubbles, and mobiles to distract infants and toddlers during an IV stick or immunization; we use cloth dolls and play medical tools with school-aged children to help prepare them for an upcoming procedure; we write, illustrate, and produce prep books, to help a child understand and prepare for surgery or a radiology procedure; we work with patients and their families to promote family-centered care, and to lessen the strain experienced by the family of a sick or injured child; we work to support families through the loss of a child; we provide play, reading, and expressive activities for children who stay in the hospital for days, weeks, and months on end; as well as many other things.
HarlemHospitalis a public facility, treating everyone, regardless of ability to pay. We take emergency cases, but are a primary care facility for most of our families, who depend on us for dental, medical, mental, and social healthcare needs. We’re a brand-new department in an under-funded hospital, so I don’t have the budget of an established children’s hospital, like Montefiore or Columbia Prebyterian’s child life department- I have learned to depend on, and greatly value, the contributions we receive from the Starlight Foundation, Project Sunshine, the Pinwheel Project, and the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. Right now, what I need the most, are volunteers- people who share a vision of equal healthcare for all, and who love working with children. We need people to sit and read with our patients, or provide arts-and-crafts activities for them, or play board or card games with a patient, or hold a baby whose mother works during the day and can’t stay with him while he’s in the hospital.
Please consider joining us here in Harlem- Bank Street helped me find, and encouraged my passion for child life- whatever your passion is, I am confident that if you would consider bringing it to our child life department, it will enrich and enliven our patients’ lives as much as the experiences with them will enrich and enliven yours.
Emily Johnson, MS, CLS
Director of Child Life Services, Harlem Hospital Pediatrics
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