As someone who could only volunteer at nights and on weekends, the full-time dental hygienist was on a six-month wait list of volunteers wanting to be a cuddler for some of the most fragile babies born.
Kelly has been around children all of her life, growing up in a house with several siblings and helping with children’s activities at her church. She moved to the Champaign area from a small town a couple of hours away and she said donating her time as a NICU cuddler helps her feel more like part of the community.
Wearing her Winnie the Pooh onesie, Carter looked up and watched Kaya Kelly for a while, but that did not last long. “They go right to sleep,” Kelly said.
A cuddler for five months, Crystal Reynolds is very familiar with the Carle Foundation Hospital NICU as she started her nursing career there and still knows a few of the nurses in that area. Now a Heartland Community College nursing instructor, she commutes from McLean County to volunteer at the NICU in Urbana.
“This is the best. The two hours of monthly volunteer time either talking to or quietly rocking a baby provides me with quiet reflection time. It feels so good to be helpful,” she said.
Another volunteer, 89-year-old Eileen Olson said, “You are just there to cuddle.” She has been volunteering in various ways at Carle Foundation Hospital for 43 years with eight of those years as a cuddler.
Olson said she and her husband did not have children and she began cuddling with babies in the NICU after her husband died. The oldest of six, she knew how to handle a baby. “I just knew this is for me.”
“Volunteers learn to not wear buttons on the front of the shirt. The babies don’t like that. And the rings come off. You are there for the baby and the nurses are wonderfully supportive,” Olson said.
While being a cuddler is a great volunteer experience, there are many ways to volunteer time and talent to community members in need through the healthcare system. All volunteers are subject to immunization requirements and a background check. Those seeking volunteer opportunities right away can connect with the following opportunities:
Carle Richland Memorial Hospital in Olney: afternoon patient escort, helper at East Street Boutique or at Rehab Services. Contact Karen Winkels at Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington: resale boutique (displays and cashier); outpatient center greeter providing directions and offering masks; information desk greeter; volunteer who replenishes clean cloths on all units in the morning; or morning storeroom help. Contact Sue Seibring at email@example.com.
Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana: information desk; patient escort (includes wheelchair transport, assistance with wayfinding and some deliveries to patients); clinic greeters; greeters at the new Carle at The Riverfront in Danville; gift shop; resale boutique; guest house; surgical/HVI waiting room; Carle Cancer Institute; Caring Presence (No One Dies Alone); Creative Arts Music program; Carle Friends virtual visits with a phone call; pet therapy; veteran note cards; as well as other opportunities through Community Health Initiatives and CRIS Healthy Aging. Contact Eric Toliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.