April is Volunteer Appreciation Month! Join us as we celebrate our amazing Amara volunteers who ensure children entering foster care are cared for – physically and emotionally – in our Emergency Sanctuaries.
by Susie Ulrickson
I worked for many years as a pediatric nurse where I learned how strong and adaptable kids are – even when faced with challenging medical issues and procedures. I learned it was well worth the extra time and creativity to nurture their trust in what could be an extremely scary hospital environment full of strangers. If children are well supported by people they trust and if they feel loved by those around them; if they are prepared, so as not to be caught off guard; if they are listened to and invited to play; then they are able to handle large amounts of stress. I witnessed how children who did not have those things were understandably frightened and frantic, and often did not experience the same degree of healing from the treatments as a result.
As I was preparing to retire several years ago, I stumbled upon Amara’s Emergency Sanctuary and realized I wanted to continue spending time with children who are dealing with stresses, who find themselves suddenly placed in foreign environments with strangers. I was immediately impressed with the Sanctuary’s commitment to be a safe place where kids are respected, genuinely cared about, and provided with numerous invitations to play as they process the experiences – often confusing and frightening – in which they are living. My husband and I have been grateful the past several years to spend Christmas Day at the Sanctuary, a day that can be most difficult for kids to be separated from their parents.
The Sanctuary staff are consistent, thoughtful, patient, creative, and wise as they help these kids navigate unknown territory. As a volunteer, I have felt part of that team: free to concentrate 100% on the children, allowing the staff to take care of the other dimensions of the program as needed. Because I am there solely to create welcome and trust, I often am privileged to observe or hear information from the kids helpful toward their ongoing care.
My first shift – and every shift since – I always start off with hesitation and insecurity. Will I be able to connect? Will the children warm up to me? Will I know how to respond to the huge array of behaviors with which kids express themselves? Even more, when they do warm up and trust me, will it be hard on them to say goodbye to yet another adult? Contrary to these inevitable worries, however, I find the Sanctuary to be a calming home, the staff always supportive and willing to share what they have learned about how best to relate to each child, the park nearby a great place for energy to be let out, and kids almost always responsive to personal attention and gentle care.
A goal I have for every shift with every child is to notice a positive quality they exhibit and, before leaving the Sanctuary, to privately tell them what I noticed and that I know those qualities are sure to help them grow into brave, kind and happy people.
The kids at the Sanctuaries continually teach me about courage and forgiveness, about play and laughter, and about trust and vulnerability. It’s an honor to get some glimpses into their lives.
Susie Ulrickson has been an Amara volunteer for over 3 years, where she began volunteering after 26 years as a pediatric nurse at Phoenix, Minneapolis and Seattle Children’s hospitals. Susie has been married for almost 44 years ; she has two sons and a daughter and 7 grandchildren! Other than kids, Susie is most passionate about trails – she has to “get on them to see where they lead.” And, of course, chocolate chip cookies with nuts.
For more information on joining us as a volunteer, please visit our Volunteer Information Page!