Not many nursing home residents get a chance to cuddle an infant. That opportunity came this year to one grateful resident in the Erie County Medical Center's skilled nursing facility when a volunteer's husband couldn't make it home in time to baby-sit.
Undaunted, and determined to keep her volunteer commitment, Faye Pietrak bundled her baby in a basket and took her along. When she got to the hospital, an elderly woman in a wheelchair offered to hold the child.
"It was the perfect solution," Mrs. Pietrak recalled. "The lady was so happy to have a baby in her arms, she held her the entire time we were there."
That was a one-time emergency occasion, Mrs. Pietrak noted, but it reinforced her belief that children can bring a new perspective to nursing home residents -- and vice versa.
Earlier this year, when Volunteer Board members were discussing ways to be of service to the nursing facility, Mrs. Pietrak suggested involving children. The result was a valentine party at which several children made decorations and shared refreshments with the residents. The program was so successful, it has become a regular holiday event.
"At first, I took my own children," said Mrs. Pietrak, mother of four and a former ECMC nurse. "When my kids told their friends, they, too, wanted to participate. Soon mothers were approaching me and asking if I could involve their children."
Working with marking pens, stickers and other supplies furnished by the Volunteer Board, the children and residents have dyed Easter Eggs, designed Father's Day cards and made Halloween and other seasonal decorations.
Last week, Elmwood-Franklin School classmates of Mrs. Pietrak's daughter, Sidney, shared their creativity with residents at a Christmas get-together.
"When a gathering centers around a project, it makes everything friendlier and more enjoyable," Mrs. Pietrak emphasized. "Everyone has a reason to talk to one another and it brings a bit of the outside world into the hospital."
Residents' eyes light up when they see the children, and the children develop a sensitivity to those who are elderly or disabled, she added.
"Many of today's children are growing up far away from their own grandparents, and many of the ECMC residents have no families at all. This seemed an ideal way to bring two generations together," she continued.
Thus far, volunteers have included a Girl Scout leader and her troop and other Volunteer Board members and their grandchildren.
"The kids really love it. They're welcomed by a staff member at the hospital door and ushered to a big elevator that takes them to the sixth floor," Mrs. Pietrak said.
Moreover, the exposure they gain in a hospital setting might be a determining factor in deciding on a vocation. "Perhaps they'll want to become doctors or nurses or social workers," she said.