Photo by ASHLI BARRETT/Advocate Staff

Caring Cuddlers keep babies happier

The gentle touch of volunteers is making a difference in the lives of sick babies and children at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

The gentle touch of volunteers is making a difference in the lives of sick babies and children at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Jamie Calkins, Red Deer College nursing student, is currently one of 30 Caring Cuddlers for young hospital patients.

“I’ve been cuddling since October,” said Calkins, 20, who has been a volunteer at the hospital since 2007.

Over a four-month period she spent about 30 hours with an infant boy, reading and singing to him, but mostly just holding him.

“It was a great experience. It gave the boy’s parents an opportunity to go home and rest and grab some food knowing there was someone with their son. You feel like you’re making a difference not only for the parents, but (the baby) as well.”

She said it can be sad knowing the baby she’s cuddling requires medical care.

“At the same time, it gives you hope being able to be there and make a difference for these families. This family was very involved with the care, which was very inspiring as well to see their optimism with everything that is going on,” Calkins said.

Caring Cuddlers is a respite program that has been operating for many years for families with patients on the pediatric unit, and sometimes the neonatal intensive care unit.

“It’s often when there isn’t that huge support circle available that volunteers become extremely important to a family,” said Darci Shave, volunteer resources co-ordinator at the Red Deer hospital.

She said more requests for Caring Cuddlers occur in the fall and winter when there’s often a higher pediatric population at the hospital because of flu and flu-related illnesses.

Currently, Shave is not recruiting volunteers to be cuddlers.

But Alberta Health Services Central Zone is always looking for volunteers for a variety of roles and areas.

For example, volunteer opportunities exist right now in acute care, the emergency department and pastoral care.

Last year volunteers, including community groups and auxiliaries, contributed more than 194,000 hours of service to facilities in the Central Zone. Roles included entertaining patients, residents and families through music, pet visitation, games and outings, supporting staff and patients in clinical areas like laboratories, nursing units, community cancer clinics and pre-op assessments. They assisted in helping with meals, delivering patient mail, providing spiritual support, overseeing gift shops, delivering flowers and tending flower beds and gardens at AHS sites.

More information on volunteer opportunities can be found online at

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