Letting Kids be Kids: Meet Lurie Children’s Activity Coordinators
Childhood is a season of life where exploration, growth and creativity are necessary for self-development and social inclusion. Lurie Children’s integrates play and learning opportunities for patients and siblings at the main hospital and Lincoln Park outpatient location. Special events, daily play groups, inpatient therapy dog visits, art activities, kid-friendly incentives and celebrity guests are just a few services offered. But who facilitates the magic behind these activities?
Lurie Children’s Activity Coordinators and Panda Center of Hope (formerly Family Life Center) Coordinators are at the forefront of patient and family care. Emerging over 20 years ago, our activity coordinators arrange and implement programs and activities for patients of all ages and abilities. They facilitate activities that reflect the appropriate developmental levels of patients and siblings. Our Activity Coordinators partner with a multidisciplinary team to plan and execute programs and events for children and families we serve.
“We believe in empowering patient and family voice and choice through socialization, normative play and community collaboration,” says Boe Fry, Activity Coordinator.
Coordinators are primarily located in the Panda Center and in ambulatory clinics at the main hospital and Clark/Deming location and are a part of the Children’s Services team. The Panda Center has multiple areas for patients and families to engage in socialization, play and respite, including: a classroom, teen lounge, salon, play area, developmental playroom, library, art and music spaces, the Skylight TV Production Center and “Sam I Am Corner.”
Our four Activity Coordinators and two Panda Center Coordinators at Lurie Children’s are generously supported through philanthropy. Each coordinator brings a unique lens to their work supporting both inpatients and outpatients of all ages. Regardless, our coordinators have the same goal — to provide patients and families with positive outlets for experiential learning and happiness in midst of medical treatment.
“Our coordinators have diverse educational backgrounds and life experiences that bring a lot of depth to patient care,” says Susan Ruohonen, Senior Director of Family Services. “They create a collaborative work flow focusing on creativity, innovation, customer service and community partnerships. In conjunction with all areas of Lurie Children’s, our coordinators bring opportunities to patient families, while also educating others on the unique nuances of a pediatric healthcare environment.”
Intentional planning and education are two foundational elements integrated within the role of activity coordinators. Otherwise known as “jack of all trades,” their expertise is endless, as they have a purpose behind everything they do.
What Do Activity Coordinators Responsibilities Involve?
Coordinators supervise over 300 volunteers throughout the week, including evenings and weekends.
“Our coordinators work closely with our volunteers to make certain that there is an ability for human touch, beyond just one person,” says Ruohonen. “Volunteers are really an extension of our coordinators.”
Craft activities and special events with Lurie Children’s departments and outside communities to build an uplifting environment for patients, families and siblings.
“To normalize a child’s medical care, we promote avenues of socialization, stream current movies, hold games and even are considered the go-to technology helpers with video gaming and TV,” says Fry.
Our coordinators lead celebration activities surrounding holidays and special days for inpatients and outpatients, such as LuriePalooza, the Olympics and prom. They also coordinate special guest visits, including: Chicago sport teams, celebrities and artistic companies. If patients are unable to leave their hospital room, our coordinators always strive to take the event to the patient. Examples include: guiding the book cart, collaborating on interactive TV programs and organizing performers at bedside such as “Open Heart Magicians.”
Conduct daily developmental play groups. Coordinators supervise play groups that take place weekly during the morning, afternoon and evening as well as weekends. These play groups are separated by infants/toddlers, early school age and teens.
Customer Service, Support and Family Centered Care
Serve as active listeners for families, and welcome siblings to join any activities offered.
“We recognize that having a child in the hospital is often a scary and anxious time. We partner with Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy to facilitate emotional support/therapy animals to inpatient bedsides as well as outpatient clinic waiting rooms to ease nerves.” says Fry.
Oversee the toy donation process and distribute in-kind donations to patients. By stocking the birthday and toy storage closet, our activity coordinators ensure kids have access to distractions during medical care.
Coordinators also facilitate programing geared to specific ages and diagnosis. Our teen coordinator helps provide experienes and events specific to our patients and siblings age 13 and older including the highly popular prom night for our teen inpatients each year.
The Beads of Courage program coodinator for Hematology, Oncology, Neuro-oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation provides patients undergoing cancer treatment to express themselves through arts in medicine.
What About Outpatient Services?
Coordinators value outpatient services just as much as inpatient. Our outpatient activity coordinators have play programs in the waiting areas to reduce children’s anxiety while waiting for diagnostic tests and physician visits. They help children return to a baseline behavior after receiving a diagnostic test or visit and work with our clinics to deliver end-of-treatment rewards.
“Our activity coordinators fulfill the unique ways in which we bring opportunities to patients and families directly and indirectly,” says Ruohonen. “The success of their role pertains to their collaboration with multiple departments and professionals throughout Lurie Children’s, so they gain a deep understanding of creative ways in which to make the patient family experience distinct.”