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York College students start York Hospital NICU Cuddling program to help babies born with addictions

November 30, 2016
Service Learning Project
(Left to Right): Students Jessica Everett '18 and Sarah Hoolahan '18

Two York College students both knew from a young age they wanted to make a difference in the medical field.

For a young Jessica Everett, she remembers standing in the hospital cafeteria, waiting on word about her sick father, when someone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I said, ‘I want to be a nurse so I can eat lunch at the hospital with my mom,’” she recalled.

Sarah Hoolahan was in high school when she learned her band teacher’s wife delivered twins weighing only a pound and a half apiece. The now 20-year-old recalled she checked her teacher’s blog updates each day, every day, for a year.

“When parents feel like they have no hope, they need someone,” she said. “I want to be that person.”

Now, thanks to a service-learning assignment in their World History class at York College, the two nursing students plan to follow their passion for helping others by implementing a program to care for the babies born addicted to drugs at York Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. It’s one of more than a dozen such class projects.

“I’m trying to instill the difference between volunteering and community service,” explained adjunct professor Scott Gyenes. “These kids can solve real problems and make a real difference in this community.”

Caring through cuddling

Both Jessica and Sarah spent time this past summer at York Hospital’s NICU, cuddling babies. Science has shown for some time that NICU “cuddlers” help connect newborns’ neural pathways and aid with needed development in premature babies.

But the pair noticed something during their visits: the preemies born to mothers with drug addiction needed more attention than others, and more than they were getting. There weren’t enough hugs to go around.

“Seeing those babies just absolutely broke both of our hearts,” Jessica said.

Months later, the choice of a service-learning project in their history class was easy. The pair has outlined and will implement an expanded cuddling program at the hospital with a specific focus on drug-dependent babies who require extra attention.

Sarah has spent countless hours studying and researching the issue. Jessica spoke with hospital staff and set up meetings with administrators to coordinate volunteer recruitment. And with their goal now in sight, both are ready to see it through, determined to make a difference.

“It’s something to help the community,” Sarah said. “Something to help people when they really need it.”

Making York a better place

The assignment at the start of the semester was as simple as it was profound: make York a better place. And students in Gyenes’ class rose to the challenge.

There are 20 student projects. Among them are the following:

  • marketing custom water bottle cozies to help raise money to fight breast cancer;
  • engineering a better way to get ice-melting rock salt containers to the disabled this winter;
  • and creating handmade wooden toys for area children with the craftsmanship of one Economics student.

The common thread? Bright young students are harnessing their personal interests to make the world around them a better place.

“I told them that they can all give back in some way,” Gyenes said. “Now seeing them do it, I’m just tremendously proud.”

Giving ‘something more’

Nursing textbooks take you only so far.

Sarah, who grew up in New Jersey, said she chose York College after seeing that its Nursing program was nationally ranked with a high success rate on the licensing exam for graduates. Jessica, a York-area native, recalls spending hours at the hospital with her sick father to help her mother, a nurse, thinking even back then that someday she’d do that same work in her hometown.

In both cases, York College has delivered on those expectations, they said.

But the best nurses have something that can’t be taught, too: a deep-seeded drive to help ease others’ pain. And when they’re given the framework and freedom to follow that passion, they excel.

“I was born to be a nurse,” Jessica said. “So when I saw those babies here and then got the chance, I knew I had to do something more.”

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