NICU Volunteer Program Doesn't only Benefit Babies

October 26th, 2018

When volunteers were recruited for the JPS Health Network Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the idea was to provide babies there with the human connection they need to grow while supporting doctors, nurses and therapists in the department as they do their jobs.

But an added bonus is that the volunteers have gained needed experience, found a way to fill an empty spot in their day after their own children left the nest or enjoyed the satisfaction of giving back to their community. One has even improved her own health by volunteering.




“I know it’s good for the babies to be held and it sounded like a lot of fun when I heard about it,” said volunteer Alice DeMent, 76, who was one of the first people to sign up for the NICU program. She was inspired to give her time to JPS and its patients after hearing President and CEO Robert Earley speak at a Women’s Club meeting. “It turns out that this has been great for my health, too. I have atrial fibrillation. It’s soothing for me and good for my heart to sit with a sleeping baby in my arms.”

The infants, who can’t be with their mothers all day every day because of their extended stay of up to five months in the hospital, find peace and make important bonds while in the arms of a caring person. It’s a job volunteers can’t get enough of.

Originally on the schedule one day a week, Alice quickly expanded her effort to two days and then three. With a natural talent for calming cranky infants, often humming or singing to them as she rocks back and forth, she said holding newborns in her arms is the thing she most looks forward to every week.

“I love it so much that I just kept showing up and they kept working me into the schedule,” Alice said with a laugh.”

Mitzi VanderArk, Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator at JPS, said the NICU volunteer program was started 15 months ago as a way to make sure babies get the human connection and the stimulation they need to develop. At the start, there were two volunteers. In just a few months the roster has expanded to 36.

“Most of our volunteers fall into one of three groups,” VanderArk said. “We have nursing students who volunteer to learn and gain experience in a working Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, retirees who want to give something back to the community by giving their time and empty nesters who just sent their own children off to college or had them move out of the house and they miss having kids around.”

NICU physical therapist Chelsie Kale said she hopes to expand the program by training volunteers to be able to assist with therapeutic massages for premature infants. “Premature babies have a lot of potential for development delays,” Kale said. “With physical therapy, we can over-ride a lot of those delays and give them a better quality of life.”

Kale said research has proven that a consistent nurturing touch helps children develop both physically and emotionally. Things like positioning baby’s bodies and manipulating their muscles help build flexibility and strength while human contact gives a sense of security and helps develop coping skills. Babies that are touched and held even have better lab work with less stress-related chemicals in their blood than babies who don’t receive hands-on care.

Volunteers will tell you that holding the babies is the best part of their work, but it’s not their only responsibility. They also must take care of other NICU business including doing inventory, stocking carts, organizing the blanket closets and putting together informational packets. Volunteers are required to commit to giving at least one two-hour block of their time a week – at least 50 total hours a year – and all of this comes after they go through training, pass a background check, are verified to know CPR and provide references.

“I’m so glad to be able to do this,” DeMent said. “I’m glad to be able to help the babies. But I never realized it would help me so much, too.”

If you’d like to volunteer to help take care of babies in the NICU – or other patients at JPS – call Volunteer Services 817-702-1590 or visit the volunteer services website


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