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From left, Panhellenic treasurer Erin Williams, president Stacey Swift, recruitment counselor Kristen Viola, secretary Meredith Neely, and vice president Katie Wolfe.

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Having a son or daughter admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of a hospital is a traumatic, often devastating experience. Apart from the immediate clinical urgency, a NICU experience can put a tremendous strain on families as parents balance critical time with their newborn and the parenting demands for other siblings.

In these moments, every aid a parent has counts for so much.

At Geisinger Medical Center, in nearby Danville, Pa., a new tool has been developed to help support the needs of NICU babies' older brothers and sisters.

200 sibling play kits
Thanks to an idea co-conceived by Cindy Line, March of Dimes’ NICU Family Support Specialist at Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, and members of six Bucknell University sororities, more than 200 new "Parent Care Kits" have been specially created to bring a little fun and joy to the newborn’s big brothers and sisters. These kits enable older siblings to focus on play, allowing their parents to more easily focus attention on the care being rendered to the new infant.

In her unique March of Dimes liaison role at Geisinger, Line first met the Bucknell students while attending an on-campus volunteer fair. At the fair, she was introduced to sorority representatives, each of whom had a similar interest: they wanted to sponsor a socially worthwhile project that could also serve as a recruitment event where first-year students could meet upper-class partners.

"That first meeting was magic," noted Line. "These young women were determined to find a way to help. Their interest in 'doing good' was just so obvious. And when I told them of this critical need at Geisinger – to help support the brothers and sisters of our NICU babies – their response was simply overwhelming."

Hand-decorated boxes
Each kit was created piece-by-piece and hand-decorated with messages of love and encouragement from the Bucknell women. Each box contains an assortment of activity and coloring books, crayons and markers, cards and games. 

"It was such a gratifying experience for the young women," noted Karen Landis, assistant director of fraternity and sorority affairs at Bucknell. "It’s a remarkable and uplifting thing to see college-aged people reaching out to those in need. It speaks to the quality of Bucknell's students."

Line added that "this partnership also demonstrates the high esteem to which the March of Dimes is held in our community. When I told them that I was here on behalf of the March of Dimes and the NICU babies at Geisinger, there was such a genuine outpouring of enthusiasm to make this project happen."

Additional collaboration
These Parent Care Kits sibling activity kit is but one way in which the Bucknell and Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital are collaborating. Line has also established new student-led work groups that will assist with allied projects such as scrap-booking, parent-aide kits, and "Sibling Saturday" – outings for the brothers and sisters that make the NICU experience a little less daunting. "This is the beginning of something remarkable," she added.

Posted April 5, 2007