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Donated comfort kits help kids through hospital visits

Kelly Macheska, a nurse and manager of Monongahela Valley Hospital's emergency department, knows that an ambulance ride, medical procedure or a visit to the emergency department can be a scary experience for children.

Macheska recently connected with a Connecticut company and secured 100 Guideposts for Kids Comfort Kits to help her young patients relax and feel less frightened.

Guideposts Outreach, a nondenominational, faith-based organization, distributes the kits to help children ages 4 to 13 through trying health care situations.

Macheska said her staff already has used the first 100 kits, and she's ordered another 100.

"I knew someone at a children's hospital who told me about the kits, and (Guideposts') donors were generous enough to supply us at MVH as well," Macheska said at a recent meeting with the program's representatives. "We serve a large pediatric population, and these kits have been such an asset to us when we're caring for children and their families."

She said her staff give the kits to children who are admitted to the hospital and to any child having a procedure in the emergency department. She said the kits help distract children and take their minds off of their fears.

"In transporting children, the kits have really been a big hit, especially because only one parent can travel in an ambulance with the child," Macheska said. "It's the little things that make a difference, and these kits benefit the children, their families and the hospital."

The kits are a hit

The kits, which cost Guideposts Outreach about $8 each, come with a keepsake box to store the contents plus a child's other personal possessions. Young patients also receive Sparkle the Caring Star pillow and a bracelet that says, "I'm special," to reassure the children.

Other items include stickers, an inspirational prayer card, a Special Care Journal with crayons to write or color, a personalized star sheet, a blue stress foam squeeze ball and a "My Special Care" CD.

The organization distributes them to hospitals and children's hospitals, as well as to organizations serving sick and injured children.

"We found that the kids can use the stickers to connect with doctors and nurses, and the journal can help express complicated feelings through pictures or words," said former nurse Joyce C. Krauchuk, the Guideposts Outreach volunteer from Slippery Rock who helped Macheska bring the kits to MVH. "One chaplain told me it's a real icebreaker, too, that he has something to talk about with the kids."

According to Rhonda Neal, manager of Guideposts Outreach in Danbury, Conn., her organization created the comfort kit program nearly six years ago and has distributed them to 75,000 children in 43 states.

She said Florida and Pennsylvania, respectively, have received the most kits this past year. Through the efforts of her new volunteer, Krauchuk, the donations have spread far beyond the one original children's hospital in eastern Pennsylvania that first used the kits.

"We have gracious donors who contribute to make these kits available and we want them to know that they are helping comfort children," said Neal, who visited Pennsylvania recently for fundraising meetings.

The program is supported by donors and the proceeds of Guideposts publications such as magazines, books, calendars and cards. She said the group's goal is to reach 100,000 children in every state in the nation.

"Most people have heard of Guideposts magazine but not about all of the outreach we do," Neal said.

Contact Guideposts Outreach about donations for the kits distributed at MVH by calling 203-749-0404.

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