Children First: Important volunteer group at Valley Children's

Amanda Aguilar Image
Friday, December 15, 2023
Children First: Important volunteer group at Valley Children's
Valley Children's is always looking for helpers, but there's one volunteer opportunity that's one of the most coveted.

MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Every Wednesday morning, Jill Campbell scrubs in for her shift at Valley Children's Hospital in Madera.

Even after teaching for 40 years, Campbell still wanted retirement to include kids.

Campbell is one of about 50 volunteer cuddlers at Valley Children's. It's a position she takes seriously.

"I just love being with the babies," she said. "I love knowing that I can hold the babies when their parents can't be here - and not every family can be here all the time, so that's where I come in. I get to love their babies while they're not here."

Cuddlers hold, rock and soothe the hospital's tiniest, most critical patients.

"These babies are babies who are usually about three pounds or more," says Stacie Venkatesan with Valley Children's. "We also have a large population of very big babies who have surgical needs, and they often are with us a long time recuperating from their surgeries."

Campbell will walk the halls of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, listening for a baby who needs some extra care.

Cuddlers are trained by neonatal nurses on how to properly hold the infants.

Campbell says she can't imagine a better way to spend her day than loving on a precious little boy or girl.

"It is something that gives me purpose," she said.

Whether it's five minutes or maybe two hours, volunteers' comforting cuddles do serve a purpose.

Not only does it allow nurses to provide care to other babies, cuddlers help them develop into healthy babies.

"Their sight and their hearing are all part of being held and being interacted with in a positive way," Venkatesan said.

Since cuddlers are dealing with some of the most medically-fragile patients, Valley Children's is selective about who can become one.

Candidates are promoted from the Patient Pal volunteer group, and there's usually a waitlist to become a cuddler.

Campbell ends each shift knowing she made a difference in the lives of the littlest patients - leaving her more fulfilled every day.

"I think everybody should do it," she said.

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