With WIN, It’s a ‘Win-Win’ for Patient and Volunteer Families Alike

The Women’s Initiative Network for Kennedy Krieger offers individuals and families different ways to get involved with volunteering at the Institute.

Being a parent of an inpatient at Kennedy Krieger Institute can be an overwhelming experience. Many families are from out of town, and many are staying in Baltimore—perhaps even in a city—for the first time. They’re often far away from the close friends and other family members who support them in difficult situations.

That’s where the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) for Kennedy Krieger steps up to help. A volunteer organization, WIN is dedicated to supporting patient families when they need it most, helping them feel at home and among friends while their children are receiving crucial medical services.

Every parent of an inpatient at Kennedy Krieger’s hospital receives a welcome bag, with amenities like toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, earplugs and flip flops— useful things for a parent staying overnight in a child’s room. The dues that WIN members pay fund the amenities, and WIN members and volunteers stuff the bags with the goodies. WIN also organizes dinners for Kennedy Krieger families.

“WIN volunteers are so generous with their time, resources and good spirits,” explains Child Life and Therapeutic Recreation Department special programs coordinator Sherry Fisher.

Every year, WIN hosts several fundraisers—like a fall “Wine Walkabout” and a special Derby-themed gala in the spring—throughout the year to raise money for patients and programs at Kennedy Krieger. For the past three years, WIN has sponsored Camp SOAR, a camp for former Kennedy Krieger inpatients and their siblings.

“WIN has been an amazing supporter of Camp SOAR,”says certified therapeutic recreation specialist Kelley Marcue, CTRS, who also directs the camp. “We appreciate all of the things they do for camp and our department, including donating their time, energy and supplies. They are always asking how they can help and what we may need.”

In December, the Child Life and Therapeutic Recreation Department hosts a special event called “Snoasis,” during which a hospital meeting room is transformed into a holiday shopping extravaganza. Parents have the opportunity to choose gifts for all of their children, both in the hospital and at home, and patients have the opportunity to “shop” for their parents or guardians and siblings. WIN has been very generous in donating items for the event, Fisher and Marcue say.

Every fall, WIN hosts a carnival for inpatients in the lobby of Kennedy Krieger’s hospital. WIN families—local families who volunteer together, as a family activity—run booths for activities like face painting and games for the kids staying in the hospital. “It gives our patients an opportunity to play games, win prizes and have fun,” Fisher says.

“The parents who volunteer say their children don’t even notice the differences between themselves and the kids they’re helping,” says Dara Schnee, WIN’s director. It’s a chance for their children to see that kids are kids, no matter their abilities.

WIN also holds a sensitivity training each year for families to learn more about what it’s like to live with a disability. For an hour, families perform activities like wearing thick goggles or gloves while trying to read or pick up a book— that helps them start to understand what life is like with a disability. After the training, the families accompany Kennedy Krieger patients and their families for an activity or outing—this past year, it was a bingo game. Bowling might be next, Fisher adds.

And twice a month on Wednesdays, WIN volunteers join Marcue, Fisher and other Child Life and Therapeutic Recreation Department staff members in helping patients create crafts, play games, interact with peers and just be a kid.

“We really enjoy having the WIN volunteers on Wednesdays,” says Marcue, who coordinates WIN Wednesdays. “It’s fun to see the WIN members and patients excited to see and interact with each other.”

“Volunteers often tell me,” Schnee adds, “that they feel they get more than they give when they volunteer with WIN.

“If you come to WIN Wednesdays over the course of two months,” for example, “you’ll see a kid not able to talk start grasping a paintbrush and communicate through painting,” Schnee explains. “It’s an incredible thing to witness.”

Visit KennedyKrieger.org/WIN to learn more and get involved.