If you walked into the Volunteer Engagement office on the first floor of Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) the day before Valentine's, you would have seen 100 heart-shaped helium balloons, stacks of donated books and toys, and adults dressed as Captain America and Rocket Racoon. Manager of Volunteer Engagement, Halley Hamon, said, "You never know what you'll find in our office." It can appear chaotic, but if you step back and watch all the moving parts, you see the workings of a beautiful community of giving organized by the volunteer engagement team.

Generosity takes many forms, and managing it all takes teamwork. Lane Hume, volunteer coordinator at ACH and one of the six members of the volunteer engagement team, said, "Communication is very important for us. This is a fast-moving job." Despite the flurry of activity, she stops to listen when a volunteer walks in with a story about her weekend that ended in a broken finger.

Every year, hundreds of people of all ages volunteer their time, donate the products of their talents or bring gifts or monetary donations to ACH, Arkansas Children's Northwest (ACNW) in Springdale or any of the Arkansas Children's clinics. The many forms of generosity often arrive at unexpected moments. As one team member onboards a new volunteer, another must be available to accept donated quilts or knitted hats, for example.

Every day looks different for the team that organizes the daily volunteers and plans significant events like the annual Festival of Stars toy and donation drive. The desire to improve the experience for the hospital's pediatric patients and their caregivers is one of the common threads binding it all together.

That was evident when Captain America and Rocket Raccoon visited as part of ACH's partnership with Cap for Kids. Hamon and Hume escorted the professional cosplayers around the hospital.

As the costumed heroes walked the halls, one young patient emerged from his room to get a closer look at a Rocket Raccoon. His mother trailed behind him, wheeling the IV pole connecting her son to monitors and tubes with medicine. For minutes, the patient and the adult-sized raccoon stood in the hall and talked about traveling in space, backpacks and what they ate for breakfast. The topics of diagnoses, treatments and recovery never came up.

"That's the magic of these visits," Hamon said. "They let the kids forget they're tethered to an IV pole."

Building a Community of Caring

Volunteers - even those not dressed as superheroes - create magic moments like that every day at Arkansas Children's because they're part of a community focused on caring for children. Emily Martin, manager of volunteer engagement, helps build that community by matching volunteers to the places in the hospital best suited for their talents or personality. During placement interviews, she describes the joys and challenges of working in the teen room, being a greeter, volunteering in the emergency department, or any other possible placements. "I always want to set a volunteer up for success," Martin said.

Volunteers range in age from retired people to young children who use their birthday parties to collect toys for Arkansas Children's patients. Some volunteers hope to gain experience in a hospital because they're pre-med students. Others are high-school students with disabilities volunteering through a community-based instruction program. All of them add unique and valuable talents to the Arkansas Children's team and community that includes ACH, ACNW, clinics in Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, and Rogers, as well as clinics in west and southwest Little Rock.

Erica Phillips, executive director of volunteer engagement, oversees the volunteers and the Arkansas Children's gift shops, the ACH Family Resource Center and the system's medical legal partnership. Volunteers benefit all those areas and programs. "Compassion underscores everything we do," Phillips said.

Each location has specific needs. The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) needs volunteers with a calm presence to rock tiny babies. The gift shop, on the other hand, needs outgoing and enthusiastic volunteers to interact with hundreds of people every day. The diversity of needs ensures volunteers can find work that is meaningful and matches their talents, like the Spanish-speaking volunteers at the ACH Southwest Little Rock Clinic.

"Who Needs Some Love?"

Volunteering and donating are expressions of love. Collecting and distributing many of the donations received at Arkansas Children's is the work of volunteer engagement team member Kathy Lower. She maintains the library of free books in the Family Resource Room at ACH and organizes donated toys for the units and clinics that give them to patients as prizes. She also stocks the carts loaded with snacks and drinks - compassion carts - that get wheeled through hospital units to provide staff and parents a boost of energy. The snacks are especially appreciated by parents, Lower said. "If you're with your child, you may not want to leave the room to go to the cafeteria."

Traveling the hallways with the compassion cart - "rounding" in hospital lingo - doesn't happen in every hallway every day. To decide where the compassion cart is needed most, Lower listens to daily leadership meetings to understand which units have been exceptionally busy or faced unusual challenges. As she listens, Lower asks herself, "Who needs some love?"

Love in the form of a donated stuffed animal, a packet of peanuts or a bottle of water can profoundly impact a sleep-deprived parent or a sick child.

The Secret Ingredient

If love is the main ingredient in making a strong volunteer community, listening is the secret ingredient for the Arkansas Children's volunteer engagement team. No matter how chaotic or full the day is, team members listen to volunteers as they share stories about a victory in a volleyball tournament or a spouse with a knee injury. Valuing every volunteer on a personal level is a priority. Those deep connections create relationships that benefit every family and patient that walks through the doors.

AnneDella Hines, the volunteer engagement coordinator at ACNW, said being good listeners is also an important trait for volunteers. "They know the right questions to ask," Hines said. Whether a family looks lost in the halls or needs a quiet place to process emotions, the volunteers can point them in the right direction. Volunteers also know when it's important to be a comforting presence by sitting next to a caregiver whose child is in surgery or getting care.

While no two days may be the same in the life of a member of the volunteer engagement team, you can be sure that every day they've taken the time to listen and share the love with those who need it most.


Donate Toys and Gifts to Arkansas Children's

There are many ways to donate to Arkansas Children's. Purchase toys, books, crafts items. etc. to help provide care to the children in our hospital. You can shop in your favorite store or online using our wish lists.

Learn more about donating