Stacy Allen will never forget the volunteers who helped care for her father during the last years of his life.
Diagnosed with kidney cancer, her father was treated at Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. He lived for five years before the cancer claimed his life.
“Honestly, my father loved coming to the hospital for treatment,” Allen said. “The volunteers always made it a pleasant place to be for him, a place you’d want to visit. There was something special about the entire University of Minnesota hospital system that really touched me.”
Inspired by her father’s experience, Allen chose to begin volunteering at the University of Minnesota Health Transplant Center. Eventually, that road led her to University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
In three years, Allen has logged roughly 1,000 volunteer hours for the Family Resource Center at the children’s hospital—making her a very prolific volunteer at the hospital.
“I call her ‘super volunteer’ all the time because she always does more than she needs to,” said Family Resource Center Coordinator Laurie Frattallone. “She is just game. She will do absolutely everything to help.”
“Absolutely everything” includes visiting with patients’ families during weekly Wednesday coffee sessions; offering emotional support and a getaway for patients’ siblings; cleaning and cataloguing the center’s extensive book, DVD and video game collections; and even dressing up in mascot outfits for children’s hospital events.
“I’ve been Clifford the Big Red Dog twice. I’ve been Cat-in-the-Hat. I have been Skippy John Jones, he’s a cat character in a children’s book,” she said, laughing. “Every day, it’s something different.”
The Family Resource Center, developed by the hospital’s Parent Advisory Board, patients and staff, is an oasis for families and young patients who need a reprieve from daily challenges. Set off from the children’s hospital lobby, the resource center stocks books, magazines, DVDs and video games for use by patients and families. It also offers free use of computers and printers. Staff can also assist with health information searches.
Over time, the role of the resource center has grown, Frattallone said. Now, the resource center also serves as the focal point for many of the hospital’s patient-oriented events.
“Our mission is transformed; we now provide respite and distractions and a place to decompress,” Frattallone said.
And that mission wouldn’t be possible without the help of volunteers like Stacy Allen.
“She is very intuitive, so she can tell when someone’s hurting and needs support. She’s really good with kids; they absolutely gravitate toward her,” Frattallone said.
For Allen, the volunteer work is a joy and a way to honor her father’s memory.
“The kids at the hospital, they’re not here for a broken leg, or to have their tonsils out. Many of them are seriously ill,” Allen said. “It touches my heart to know I can do something, to help in some small way.”
“I think about [my father] often when I go in to volunteer, and what a special place the university was for him,” Allen said. “When he was at the hospital, all of those people gave of themselves for a reason, and it had a deep impact on his experience. I wanted to give that back.”