Editor’s Note: National Healthcare Volunteer Week is April 15-21 2018. Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is grateful to the many volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to help our patients and families.

Early childhood special education teacher Kalpana Parsons could be doing a lot of other things early on a Saturday morning—hanging out with friends, sleeping or eating a fancy brunch. Instead, Parsons bounds into Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare on a mission to bring happiness to patients.

“It’s my opportunity to spread goodness in the world,” Parsons says.

Gillette volunteer Kaplana Parsons enjoys playing games with patients.

Interacting with young Gillette patients comes naturally for Parsons. Last May she finished graduate school at the University of Minnesota with a degree in early education. She says her experience at Gillette allowed her to use what she learned in the classroom. “It’s so beneficial for me to come to Gillette where I can learn from the families, patients and staff. It really gives me insights into their experience.” Parsons adds.

Parsons has volunteered at Gillette for about three years and usually spends time on the inpatient rehabilitation unit. Patients in this unit are often in the hospital recovering for a long time. “I hope I can help lift their spirits or provide a distraction if they’re having a bad day,” Parsons says.

She goes room to room and offers to read, play games or just talk. She also encourages patients to play video games on the Wii in the newly remodeled family room in the unit. “Part of my job is to help parents. When I’m there interacting with their child it gives the parents time to make a phone call, grab a cup of coffee or just relax,” Parsons says.

She’s often creative when it comes to entertaining patients. She recently spent time with a young girl who loved rap music. Parsons asked the girl what she most looked forward to when she was released from the hospital. “I made up a rap lyric and put her “likes” into song form. The song wasn’t great, but hopefully she enjoyed the process and the attention,” Parsons adds.

Kalpana Parsons plays video games with Gillette patients.

Parsons has advice for anyone thinking of becoming a Gillette volunteer. “You need to be flexible, creative, understanding, and have a desire to get to know people,” she suggests. “It’s probably best if you don’t ask too many questions. You have to find a balance. Sometimes the patients don’t want to talk about their medical struggles. They want to be kid having fun.”

“I’m amazed at how strong and resilient they are. More than once I’ve been impressed by patients who are happy and bubbly even though they’re dealing with some tough medical issues,” Parsons says.

“The best part of my day is when I can get a patient to smile,” Parsons says. “That lets me know I’m helping the patient feel more at ease in their hospital room. I love it when I can put a smile on a child’s face!”

Parsons says volunteering has become a little more challenging since she began working full-time last August. She keeps volunteering because she gets so much out of the experience. “Research shows volunteering is good for your health. I’m proof of that,” she says with a laugh. "I always tell people, helping others ultimately helps you too!

Please click here for information about volunteering at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

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