By Marta Maliszewska
Imagine being sick, and going to dozens of doctors, only to find nobody knows what illness you have. Imagine feeling worse everyday, until finally your parents say you’re going to someplace called the National Institutes of Health(NIH) in Bethesda, a huge complex full of doctors and hospitals.
They poke and prod you everyday, trying to figure out how your illness works and if there’s a way to cure it. Imagine that after a tough day of tests, you go to a cold and lifeless hotel with no one to talk to but your parents, who are exhausted and beaten down.
Imagine that instead of going to a hotel, you go to an inn, filled with families just like yours. One where there are games everywhere, places to play sports, people you can connect with, and field trips to places like baseball games and museums.
Your parents can relax a little, surrounded by others who are going through similar experiences. You have an oasis, where you don’t have to worry about your illness for just a little while. It begins to feel like a second home.
The Children’s Inn at NIH provides comfort and security for many struggling children who are very sick, and for parents who cannot afford hotel charges on top of spending hundreds of dollars on surgeries and missing weeks of work in order to look after their sick child.
At the inn, children and families are provided with a “place like home” with a sports court, game and computer rooms, a multi-purpose room, and family kitchens. Breakfasts and dinners are served for the families, and there are field trips to museums, baseball games, and concerts.
The Red Door Spa comes every now and then, and gives the families manicures, pedicures and haircuts. There is a full time teacher for the kids’ to keep up with their education. An emergency fund is set up for families who are having financial difficulties.
The Children’s Inn has had sixty thousand visitors since 1990 when they first opened, and are open all week, every week. They have had visitors from 86 different countries, and from all around America.
It costs nine million dollars to run the inn per year. The Children’s Inn relies on volunteers and donation for support. Meredith Daley, a Community Outreach and Volunteer Program Assistant for The Children’s Inn, said that there are many ways for students to help support The Children’s Inn.
So how students can get involved with The Children’s Inn?
“For safety purposes, our age limit for volunteering at the Inn is 18. Many young students carry around germs found in schools and stores, and our kids are in the condition that exposure to germs would be very bad. We do run a summer camp program, where the minimum volunteering age is 16,” Daley said.
She emphasized that The Children’s Inn would love student volunteers. When asked about fundraisers and other ways to help, Daley quickly listed many opportunities.
“We have people do bake sales, car washes, dance marathons… basically any fundraiser you can think of. People raise money for the organization and for thoughtful treasures for the kids” Daley said.
Daley revealed through her presentation on The Children’s Inn that thoughtful treasures are small gifts or trinkets that the kids at the inn receive every morning. After checking into the Inn, a child and any siblings traveling with them will get a key to a mailbox. The thoughtful treasures are found in these mailboxes daily.
“It’s just something we do to brighten the child’s day because they’re going through such a tough time. It gives them something to look forward to,” Daley said.
I was also curious as to how The Children’s Inn affects the local community and the national community as well. Daley was able to list many different ways The Children’s Inn and research at the NIH has an effect.
“There are many generous donors in Bethesda near The Children’s Inn, and many people come from very far away to receive treatment. It’s a hopeful place to stay while kids are going to doctors at the NIH. The NIH sets the standard for curing diseases and health care for the world,” Daley explained.
To better understand Daley’s opinions on The Children’s Inn and the National Institutes of Health, I asked her how she first got involved at The Children’s Inn, and about why she finds it so rewarding.
“I was actually a patient at the NIH in college. I had a surgery there, and it was very successful. I didn’t stay at The Children’s Inn, but I saw it as a cheerful little place. After graduating college I was looking for a job in the healthcare industry. I had always worked with nonprofits. It just seemed like a no-brainer” Daley explained.
After hearing Daley’s explanation on how she got started with The Children’s Inn, I asked why she thought it was important for other students to help the kids going through treatment.
“I personally think that it’s really powerful for children to help other children. It’s always nice for our kids to know that other kids out there are thinking about them, and it’s always good to start volunteering at a young age. When you start early, you’re more likely to continue volunteering and donating when you’re older” Daley emphasized.
There are already many student volunteers at The Children’s Inn’s summer camps, and there are many fundraisers in the community too. At local universities, dance marathons are held for The Children’s Inn every year.
It’s great opportunity for CAS or for community service hours, and it is also meaningful to support other children out there who are going through such a tough time in their lives. The Children’s Inn provides a respite from this for them, and with the help of students, can continue to do so.
You are not in the same situation as the kids in The Children’s Inn, but they are not that different. They just want to get better and lead normal lives. However, some of them won’t get better and it will be hard to lead a normal life. It’s so hard for them, but it’s not hard to help.
Written by students at WIS