Ten years ago, Jody Shelley went with his teammates to Nationwide Children's Hospital to celebrate the grand opening of the Blue Jackets Foundation Family Resource Center, a 5,000 square foot hockey-themed space designed to provide a respite for families with children requiring medical attention at Nationwide Children's.
The Family Resource Center was designed to feel like anything but a hospital while providing services including a book lending program, laundry services, showers, lockers, clinical training facilities, play areas, haircuts and massages.
Last week, Shelley once again stood in that same space and marveled at the benefits that the Center has provided for so many families, over 6,000 this season alone, in support of the Blue Jackets' pillar of focus on pediatric cancer and providing ways for patients to heal through distraction.
"I think when I was a player, we realized we were doing something as Blue Jackets in the community for the hospital," Shelley said. "Now I'm a parent. I've spent time in the hospital. You realize how important these rooms are because this doesn't feel like a hospital. This feels like a getaway. I think that's important for these families. We were here when they set this up not really understanding, but now there's a real connection. It gives us a sense of pride for what's going on here."
Shelley watched with a light in his eye and a smile on his face as four-year-old Simon Reba Switala crawled over benches made of hockey sticks and played with toys that he's come to know. After all, Simon's family considers the Family Resource Center a second home. They've visited it 400-plus times as Simon has received treatment at Nationwide Children's.
"We made our first trip to Nationwide Children's when Simon was four months old," Simon's mom, Julie said. "He was in intensive care. I remember being a very sleep-deprived, worried mom and coming down and having a shower. Later, Simon participated in an eight-week program where we were here all day every day for eight weeks. This was our home base. We came here to recoup between appointments, we utilized the showers, and we utilized the massage. I definitely used the washer and dryer. This was a place for Simon to play between appointments and just be a little boy where they took care of him."
The benefit of the Family Resource Center and its ever-growing list of services, is that it thinks of what families and parents don't always think of when their focus is on caring for their sick child. Julie is emotional as she explains the impact of realizing that the Family Resource Center provided her moments to feel "normal," however briefly.
Julie has memories of meeting other parents who could provide support to one another, even if it's just having "a good cry" together. And she praises the "amazing" volunteers who on one particular day, offered to play with Simon for a bit just to give Julie a break.
"That was a day I remember because I sat down and got to be his mom just for a minute," Julie said. "I wasn't his therapist, I wasn't trying to run him to appointments. As a mother, sometimes you just need that moment to decompress and process what you're here for, all that your child is going through and that you're going through and the Family Resource Center gives you that opportunity."
One of the volunteers who played with Simon that day? Family Resource Coordinator, and registered nurse, Luke Vohsing.
"We're intentionally designed not to look like the rest of the hospital," Vohsing explained. "We're designed to look more like a living room or a living space. We're always available to both in-patient and out-patient families, so for families who may have a couple hours to kill between appointments, this is a perfect place to do that."
As anniversary cake was served, families from the hospital came down to visit and clamored for a photo with Jackets' mascot Stinger. Quietly, Shelley toured the Family Resource Center to see all it had become. He saw how it has expanded through the years to include mother's rooms, locker room space, a cardio room, computer loaning services and that ever important clinical education facility that last year provided 1,612 training sessions to families.
In the corner by the toys, Julie continues to watch Simon play with things he now considers his own as she describes how the connection to the Blue Jackets has strengthened through their time at the center, they've even started looking for a special needs hockey team Simon might join.
"It doesn't seem like 10 years," Shelley said. "To hear about all the traffic they've had here and to talk to some of the families, it's special. On the day this center opened, they talked about how the people at the hospital were going to use it, they were talking about the washer and dryer and the showers, and how it wouldn't feel like you were in a hospital. That's what they tried to accomplish and that's what it feels like when it opened and it still feels the same today."