Imagine a 7-year-old facing first-time surgery and waiting to be called at Golisano Children’s Hospital. Even though Mom is there, he’s scared and his stomach is churning, afraid the operation will hurt, afraid of having to go it alone.
Then the nurses bring out a hatbox filled with colorful cloth caps. The fabrics are printed with cute animals, funny fish, baseball bats or smiling dolls. The patient is invited to take a pick. Nurses and surgical doctors likewise reach into the hatbox. They all show off their caps, laughing at each other.
Suddenly the operating room doesn’t seem so scary to the 7-year-old or his nervous mother.
That’s the joy for the 23 Cypress Cove at HealthPark Florida volunteers involved in the Caps For Kids project. It is one of the oldest volunteer traditions the South Fort Myers life-plan community located just a stones-throw away from Golisano Children’s Hospital.
Caps For Kids originated on Cypress Cove’s 48-acre campus in 1999 with the late Jane Andrae, a longtime hospital volunteer who made the project a success by getting community residents to volunteer their time for making the caps.
Jean Hay is Cypress Cove’s current Caps chair. Just recently the organization surpassed a rather impressive milestone having completed over 18,000 caps since its inception 17 years ago. “Each month, the children’s hospital tells us how many surgeries are scheduled,” says Hay. “That’s how many caps are needed. It averages about 90 a month.” There is greater need during the summer, she explains.
The hospital contact for Cypress Cove is Sandi Falk, RN and pediatric specialist. She orders the fabrics, scouting for sales and discounts, spending as much as $1100 for 60 yards at a time. “Luckily, the cost is covered with grants and donated funds from individuals and by the Lee Health Foundation.”
Hospital staff cut out the circles of material and send them off to Cypress Cove. That’s when Cypress Cove’s volunteers go to work.
Those with sewing machines hem the circles. Another crew gathers in the campus Studio and threads elastic through the hems. That latter has become a social event as well: time to chat, exchange opinions and anecdotes, even a little gossip.
“I’ve been sewing caps from the beginning—17 years, longer than anyone,” says resident volunteer Janet Prior. “It began with my friendship with Jane Andrae, and I continue in her memory. Besides, I like the project and the socializing when we all get together to finish the Caps For Kids. The camaraderie is special.”
“The program couldn’t exist without the Cypress Cove volunteers,” says Nurse Falk, who’s been involved since the beginning. “Caps are actually a required part of surgical procedures,” she points out, “and having them bright and colorful serves as a happy distraction, a bonus for these young patients. They all take them home as souvenirs. It’s a thrill to see how much the caps reduce the anxiety.”