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Breadth, depth of commitment define Junior League’s support

Jun. 7, 2018, 9:20 AM

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt patient Cyara Bond, 18, accepts a bingo card from Junior League volunteer Gena Moran, right, and Junior League President Krystal Clark as they visit rooms to invite patients and their families to join the evening game. (photo by Dusty Draper)

On a Thursday afternoon at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, volunteer Gena Moran pops into a patient room on the fifth floor to invite a young patient and her family to participate in a bingo game about to begin in the hospital’s butterfly garden.

Because the event is broadcast to patient rooms by Seacrest Studios, the hospital’s multimedia center, patients don’t even have to journey downstairs to participate. They can tune their televisions to Channel 46 to join the action. By calling the studio from their room phone, they can proclaim “Bingo!” for a prize delivery direct to their room.

Moran is part of an ever-present contingent of volunteers from the Junior League of Nashville (JLN), a not-for-profit organization of more than 1,600 women who make sustainable improvements in their communities. The League’s members regularly donate countless hours of time and measureless compassion at Children’s Hospital, and anyone who has been a patient or patient family member has been touched in some way by their generosity.

Moran joined the JLN in 2009, following in the footsteps of her mother, who was a Junior League member in her hometown of Destin, Florida. As a child, Moran was diagnosed with a rare form of pneumonia and was hospitalized in an adult facility that had a children’s wing. She remembers being overwhelmed, and she developed a phobia about hospitals. Many years later when her daughter developed severe trouble with her ears, the family found themselves coming to Children’s Hospital a lot.

“I got to see it from the perspective of my daughter here as a patient,” Moran said. “It didn’t scare me. I used to hate hospitals, and I thought the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt was the coolest place ever. It’s probably one of the happiest hospitals I’ve ever seen.”

When Moran received her volunteer assignment to work at Children’s Hospital, she was thrilled, and has requested this assignment every year since. She said the best thing about it is watching a child’s face transform with a smile, when she knows they’ve forgotten about being sick, if only for a little while.

Junior League member Courtney Jones, who volunteers with Moran to host the bingo nights, agreed, and she added that after a long day of work, volunteering at Children’s Hospital is exactly what she needs to revitalize her spirit.

“To come in here completely refocuses my priorities, and just being able to walk into a hospital room and watch a kid get excited about being able to play bingo — are you kidding? The fact that I am able to provide just a little bit of sunlight to that child is an amazing gift for me. It really, really is.”

Junior League volunteer Gena Moran, left, Meg Rush, MD, MMHC, Junior League of Nashville President Krystal Clark and Julia Mefford, former Junior League project chair for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, stand in front of the display that tells the history of the Junior League’s connection to children’s health care at Vanderbilt. (photo by Dusty Draper)

“I often use the phrase ‘it takes a village’ to do what we do every day in this hospital,” said Meg Rush, MD, MMHC, Chief of Staff and Executive Medical Director of Children’s Hospital. “Our very foundation and subsequent growth over many decades is inextricably linked to the commitment of steadfast volunteers like Gena and Courtney — who not only take time to brighten a child’s stay here but also help to raise funds to support our programs. The women of the Junior League of Nashville are friends and partners in helping us provide hope and healing for patients and families. We are so grateful for this longstanding relationship.”

As the League’s support for children’s health nears the century mark — the League was founded in 1922 — the organization’s involvement is stronger than ever. The organization’s partnership with Vanderbilt University Medical Center began in 1923, when the Junior League Home for Crippled Children was opened in Nashville. The home provided free convalescent and rehabilitative medical care for children with polio and other diseases. In 1971, the home relocated to what was then known as Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The JLN then stepped up to provide capital to help build the current freestanding Children’s Hospital that opened in 2004.

“It’s amazing to think about the fact that there were women in the 1920s who were running a full-fledged hospital as volunteers,” said Krystal Clark, president of the Junior League of Nashville.

“Each year in the Junior League, you get a placement, and that’s your volunteer job for the year. For these women, their placement was to help children who were struggling with polio. We are a 96-year-old organization, and to think that what our foremothers started has now become Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is pretty awe inspiring.”

Through the years, the League’s gifts have also provided significant funding for the Junior League Center for Advanced Maternal Fetal Care, the Junior League Sickle Cell Disease and Asthma Program, the Junior League Family Resource Center, the Child Life Program, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Developmental Follow-up Clinic, and many more crucial Children’s Hospital programs.

Since 1970, the JLN has provided more than $17 million to support Children’s Hospital. Most recently the League committed $1.5 million, with $500,000 earmarked for the Growing to New Heights Campaign that supports the hospital’s current four-floor expansion.

The remaining $1 million was committed to continued support for the Child Life Program, which promotes a positive medical experience for patients and their families.

During the 2016-2017 year, 27 Junior League volunteers put in more than 1,000 hours at Children’s Hospital, doing such activities as hosting special events for patients and families, spending time with patients in the hospital’s playrooms and at their bedside, and working behind the scenes to stock the comfort cart, a mobile supply of personal care items and snacks for patients’ families.

“It is truly a privilege to work together with the Junior League to build special programs to serve our patients and families,” said Luke Gregory, Chief Executive Officer for Children’s Hospital.

“For decades, the League has been unwavering in their support for children with disabilities and illnesses, and that commitment is an inspiration to us all. Our patients and their families always look forward to visits from members, whether it’s to host a movie night or lead a game of bingo. The League’s partnership strengthens everything we do at Children’s Hospital.”

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