Pack 679 Cub Scouts’ project restocks hospital bookshelves

June 15, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Being a big sister or big brother is great, but it can be hard when a new sibling requires care at the University of Washington Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Cub Scouts, with their den mother Jenny Schaffer (left) give several of their nearly 300 books to Brett Ristine, of Olympia (right), on May 26, to give his 4-year-old son Brody, whose new sister Delaney was born prematurely to mother Apryl Delaney. By Greg Farrar

“They need to wear masks, hats and gloves while they are here in the rooms,” said Carri Gest, a nurse in the unit. “When their mom is spending quality time with the new baby, often for more than two hours, it can be hard for the siblings. Especially when they’re young and have short attention spans.”

To help ease the long, quiet hours spent visiting, the neonatal unit has a bookshelf of reading material for every age. But in the past year, the collection had really dwindled.

So, when her son’s Cub Scout Pack, Den 2 of Pack No. 679, needed to do a community service project, Gest suggested the boys help other children by collecting books for the unit.

During their book drive, the boys, first-graders from Cascade Ridge Elementary and St. Joseph’s Catholic schools, managed to collect nearly 300 books to restock the bookshelves. They donated them to families at the unit May 26.

“We collected the books for children, because they didn’t have any books,” said Tiger Cub Zach Schaffer. “So, now they can read.”“It is so wonderful and we love the Scouts for doing this,” Assistant Nurse Manager Lori Chudnofsky said. “We only had about 30 books left. Most of them were pretty old rags and it was slim pickings. So, this is a huge thing to have available for our siblings.”

The books give siblings an escape from the confines of the hospital and something to do while they wait for parents to finish visiting their infants or speak to doctors and nurses.

“Now, they have something to do when they’re at the hospital, so they don’t just have to sit around,” Tiger Cub Noah Jucht said.

“If you’re bored, you can read a book and it makes the time go faster,” added Tiger Cub Noah Teeter. You can go “somewhere different in your imagination.”

“It’s unexpected,” Gest said of having a child end up in the neonatal unit. “You’re going into labor early and you come here, usually without packing or preparing anything. Some of our families come from Seattle, but there are a lot from other places, too, and they are a long way from home, staying in hotels without their toys and own clothes.”

The books are for the parents, too. Reading is something families can do together, so they spend time together, Chudnofsky said.

Parents also use the books as a way to soothe their newborns as they undergo treatments, said Dr. Michael Neufeld, the attending neonatal physician.

“The baby already knows their parents’ voice,” he said. “That small act can do a lot for a baby, whether it is to calm it down when they hear their voice or feel their touch.

“I think it helps them feel like parents, too,” he added. “With all the expectations you have of the birth of your child and of parenthood, this is quite a different experience for many of them. The simple act of reading to their child can help them really feel like parents and get some of that back.”

Two parents of premature newborns staying at the unit came to greet the boys while they unloaded the donations.

“This is a big surprise and we certainly didn’t expect it,” Veronica Fierro, 28, said. “Even though he is so little, just for him to hear my voice while I read to him is comforting for him.”

Fierro had her son Santiago Downing April 9; he wasn’t due until July 27. The two now spend long days together at the hospital where Fierro reads to her son. She said she’s seen how her reading has actually helped him stay calm and remember to breathe.

One of the boys’ fathers, Dan Teeter, even got his employer, Amazon, involved in the book drive. Amazon donated about 175 books to help the boys reach their goal.

The boys donated all types of books — chapter books; picture books; pop-up books; fiction and nonfiction; books about animals, dinosaurs and the environment; and books for all types of readers, from beginners to advanced teens and adults.

For all of their hard work after unloading the books, Gest and her colleagues had punch and Rice Krispies Treats waiting for the boys, and they picked out University of Washington hats for them to take home.

“It feels really good,” Jucht said. “We got to help out the community and that’s what Boy Scouts do. We help the community.”

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