Siblings Malcolm and Savannah Brown have been coming to CHoR for primary care all their lives. Their mom, Raquel, always plans their appointments together to limit their travel time back and forth from Richmond’s Southside. With two kids in tow, she says she’s found a new family amenity to be particularly helpful – the Ronald McDonald House Sibling Center.
Located in the Sky Lobby of the Children’s Pavilion, the Sibling Center provides a special place for siblings to come when a brother or sister is in an appointment, undergoing treatment or staying in the inpatient unit. “Knowing they are somewhere where they’re safe and comfortable is really helpful,” Raquel says. “It’s a huge stress reliever and allows me to better focus on what’s happening in the other child’s appointment.”
Friendly, fun and unique
Eleven-year-old Malcolm says that the hours he’s spent at the Sibling Center are his favorite memories of being at CHoR. He loves reading books, playing games and drawing on the center’s glass windows during his visits. “It’s a really friendly place,” he said.
Site director Rene Moss has degrees in both early childhood studies and music education. She leads a team of staff members from VCU’s Child Development Center who all have educational backgrounds in child development, education or related fields. As part of the Sibling Center team, they plan developmentally appropriate activities that promote active learning, but also provide comfort and childhood fun for their special guests. “Our primary goals for the Sibling Center are for the children we serve to feel safe and have fun,” Rene says. “We don’t try to distract a child from their sibling’s medical care, but instead [our approach is more along the lines of] help[ing] them process what is happening through creative expression and other outlets.”
Having this special service as part of our outpatient Children’s Pavilion is unique. There are very few sibling centers in children’s hospitals across the United States, according to Rene, and most are focused on inpatient care. With the wide range of services provided in the Pavilion, including services for chronic long-term needs and those requiring daily treatments and multiple visits, the support provided by the Sibling Center can help many families in many types of situations. “Our whole purpose is to help families,” Rene says. “We are able to build strong bonds with families and enable their time with our providers to be more meaningful. Our approach is to work with families as a whole to better their experience here.”
The program itself is a partnership between the VCU Health Child Care Center and the local Ronald McDonald House Charities, an organization known for providing housing and other supports so families can be close by when their child needs medical care. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond made an initial investment in the center and continues to provide ongoing financial assistance as well as other types of support. RMH volunteers come to the Sibling Center daily to work alongside staff members. Their organization also provides tangible items needed for daily activities like board games and Play-Doh. “Our mission is to keep families close and to reduce the burden on families.” Kerry Blumberg, executive director of RMHC of Richmond, says. “The Sibling Center is logical partnership because it provides another way to help families cope and stay close.”
On a given day, siblings can be found engaging in group activities or in one-on-one play with a staff member and volunteer in the Sibling Center’s bright and open classroom-like setting. How their time is structured often depends on number of children who have signed up to come at that time, and what those children want to do, but each visit starts in a similar way: With an inviting, warm welcome followed by fun activities chosen by the child. “We always begin by getting on the child’s level and showing them around. This makes them aware of the kinds of activities we have so they can choose,” Rene says. “Sometimes we do an ice-breaker to get to know the kids or have simple conversations about their interests while playing games, coloring or doing other activities.”
In the 17 months since it has been open, the Sibling Center staff has gotten to know Malcolm and Savannah – and what they like to do during their visits – quite well.
Rene describes Malcolm as “full of wit” and says they’ve shared many intelligent conversations during his visits. Board games, card games and art projects (including using dry erase markers to color on the center’s giant, wall-size windows) are typically popular with Malcolm’s age group, and his list of favorite activities shows that he’s no exception. “I remember Malcolm doing the things he talked about, but I also recall having Connect 4 tournaments,” Rene says. “We still have one of his drawings up on our wall – he’s so talented.”
Savannah, now 6, was timid during her first visit, but still able to join in the fun. “We played a matching game that first day,” Rene recalls. “She did so well and was just 3 at the time.” Since then, they’ve seen more and more of Savannah’s engaging personality come out, often during pretend play. “Younger children like Savannah tend to gravitate toward pretend play,” Rene says. The center has dolls, super heroes, cooking sets, toys for medical play and more for this type of play and Savanna says her most favorite Sibling Center activity is caring for the dolls with the doctor’s kit.
Raquel describes the Sibling Center’s team as knowledgeable and nice, both of which are important to her when she drops her kids off there. She appreciates that the center’s staff members have taken the the time get to know her children personally and that they ask how her kids are doing in school and about other aspects of their lives when they visit. “They are just really nice there,” Raquel adds. “And I know they’ re doing a good job because whenever my kids come downtown, the Sibling Center is one of the first places they ask to visit, even when they don’t have doctor’s appointments.”
The “Meet our Calendar Kids” blog series highlights children featured in CHoR’s Tid*Bits calendar. Join our mailing list to receive future issues of the Tid*Bits calendar and newsletters. We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Malcolm and Savannah our featured patients for August 2017.
More about Malcolm – fun facts:
For fun: Video games, hanging on swing set, playing with cousins
Favorite food: Cheese or pepperoni pizza
Wants to be: Firefighter, chef or policeman
Favorite CHoR memory: Reading books, playing games and drawing on glass windows in the Sibling Center
More About Savannah – fun facts:
For fun: Play-Doh/making pizzas out of Play-Doh, play and more play
Favorite food: Peanut butter and jelly
Wants to be: Does not know yet, but says she does know pink and purple are her favorite colors
Favorite CHoR memory: Crawling around the lobby pretending she’s a tiger