NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Pitching In

Inn Staff Steps Up in Time of Need

Two masked women at counter loaded with groceries.
Children’s Inn staff Aisha Dubose (l) and Meghan Arbegast sort grocery deliveries before disinfecting and bagging food for individual families.

Photo:  Credit Fern Stone

Staff at the Children’s Inn at NIH’s programs and services department are unsung heroes, says Sonja Luecke, inn spokesperson. 

“The Children’s Inn administrative staff are teleworking,” she said. “Only our essential programs and services staff—which includes resident services, our facilities team, family programming as well as volunteer services and community outreach—are working in staggered and rotating shifts to help provide for families. Our staff also have taken on the roles of the more than 200 regularly scheduled volunteers [who work in 4-hour shifts] whom we have temporarily suspended for safety reasons.”

Masked woman at counter points toward the camera.
Families cooking at the inn wear masks and practice physical distancing.

Photo:  Fern Stone

Luecke offered examples of how inn staff help keep families safe, entertained, fed and feeling cared for. 

  • Staff wear masks and gloves and administer health screening protocols to anyone entering the building.
  • They have taken on the duties of volunteers who normally staff the welcome desk: check families in, provide tours upon guests’ arrival, answer phones, call the shuttle.
  • Staff also handle other volunteer duties: accepting in-kind donations, restocking the kitchen pantries, organizing grocery gift cards and food deliveries to help families avoid unnecessary trips off-campus (inn-provided grocery runs have been suspended), placing “thoughtful treasures” into children’s mailboxes, so each child has a small gift to brighten every day.
  • While volunteers typically provide buffet-style dinners to families, inn staff now order meals and provide only individual, boxed meals to families. Staff also take meals to the Clinical Center for families who are inpatient; nurses distribute the meals to inn families.
  • Staff remind families to wear masks and practice physical distancing.
  • They make weekly check-in calls to every family staying at the inn to add an extra layer of human connection and protection. 
  • They disinfect families’ mail and food deliveries.
  • Staff provide new educational, recreational and therapeutic activities virtually so children and families can participate from their rooms. Recent examples include a virtual magic show performed by a magician, virtual zoo visits and animal talks, and more. Families receive weekly activity tables and are provided with activity kits. Zoom sessions require multiple hours for research, slide creation, activity kit assembly and hosting of session.

Lastly, an activities resources table provides children and families with arts and crafts supplies, stress balls, markers, paper, games, books and snacks and is restocked daily.

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The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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