Circles of Hope

  • By:  Jamie McAllister

Megan Crain’s son Charlie spent the first four months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk when he was born prematurely in 2009. Every day Megan sat next to his incubator, singing songs and reading books out loud to him. Weighing only 1 lb. and 6 oz. at birth, Charlie was a tiny baby in a big world, but Megan never worried about the care her son received at the hands of the skilled and dedicated staff at CHKD. Today Megan continues to support other families as co-leader of the NICU Friends Circle of The King’s Daughters.

Since 1896, The King’s Daughters have been dedicated to caring for children and their families in Hampton Roads. What began as a small group of women has transformed into a robust network of more than 1,100 volunteers in 50 circles. Each circle is dedicated to raising funds and awareness to support the mission of CHKD, the only free-standing pediatric hospital in Virginia.

This year The King’s Daughters celebrate 120 years of service to the Hampton Roads community. Although so much has changed since the reign of the founding members, the group’s strong commitment to children’s health remains the same. Let’s meet three local women who dedicate their time and energy to circles of hope.

A SPECIAL BOND
Megan Crain received the news that her son had Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) when she was about halfway through her pregnancy. The fetus wasn’t growing at a normal rate, and doctors weren’t sure if the baby would survive. Even though Megan and her husband David had no idea what to expect, they were ecstatic when Charlie was born. Their preemie son needed special care and had to spend the first several months of his life in the hospital, but the Crains knew their baby was in the best hands possible. 

“I was the happiest mom to ever leave the hospital without her baby,” said Megan. “I had been warned that my son wouldn’t survive, so to have him born alive was a miracle.”

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) quickly became Megan’s new home. She spent all day with Charlie, and when her husband left work, they visited their son together. CHKD boasts the region’s only level IV NICU, which provides specialized care to critically ill infants like Charlie.

In 2011 Megan joined the NICU Family Advisory Council, consisting of parents of NICU graduates, as well as NICU staff. The council reviews NICU policy and protocol to make sure the hospital’s procedures take into account the stress families go through while their babies receive treatment.

“Having a baby in the NICU is already extremely difficult for parents,” Megan explained. “Council members can help the hospital make the process easier for other parents who are dealing with the same issues.”

While serving her three-year term on the council, Megan bonded with several other moms, and in 2014 they formed a new circle of their own, the NICU Friends Circle of The King’s Daughters. The group is made up of half a dozen moms, as well as two NICU nurses.

“We were all such good friends, and we didn’t want to lose touch after our terms on the council ended,” Megan said. “Sometimes those who haven’t been through the same experiences struggle to understand what NICU parents go through, and it’s nice to be part of a group of friends who truly get it.”

 The NICU Friends Circle is involved in a number of fundraisers during the year. On National Neonatal Nurses Day (Sept. 15), the circle holds an online baby shower for the NICU with a registry on Amazon. Circle members ask people to purchase gifts, such as toys and books, to stock the NICU’s care closet, so that when nurses need something for the babies, they have it at their fingertips. This past spring, the circle held a fundraiser called Party for the Pint-Sized at Smartmouth Brewery in Norfolk and netted $5,000 for the hospital.

“Our circle members share a very special connection,” Megan said. “Those babies in the NICU are so fragile and so sick. If there is anything we can do to help them, whether it is raising money or donating items, then we want to do it.”

Today Charlie is seven years old and in the first grade. His younger brother Tommy is four. Charlie is learning how to play the piano and also enjoys golf. “We are super lucky to have such an amazing hospital in our backyard,” said Megan. “For the women in my circle, all of our babies are alive today because of CHKD.”

TEA PARTIES FOR KIDS
Doreen Hall was introduced to The King’s Daughters during a workout session at Bayside Recreation Center in Virginia Beach when a friend mentioned her involvement. Doreen was intrigued. She had recently retired after a long career as a paralegal with the federal government, and she thought volunteering sounded like a great idea.

Now a member of the Cypress Point Circle, Doreen often runs into fellow members during walks around her neighborhood. “The group is practically right in my backyard,” she joked.

The Cypress Point Circle takes part in numerous fundraisers throughout the year. One of Doreen’s favorites is the annual Teddy Bear Tea. Held on a Sunday afternoon, this special event welcomes boys and girls up to age 10, who arrive at the tea wearing their best suits and dresses. Healthy Bear, a CHKD mascot, is there to help kids learn about the importance of good health. Cinderella and Prince Charming also make an appearance and perform a dance for the guests.

“I love the tea because the children look so cute all dressed up,” Doreen said. “The night before, everyone in the circle gets together to make the food for the event. Many of us also dress up in our tea clothes when we serve the guests.”

Teddy bears are serious business for the Cypress Point Circle. In addition to hosting the Teddy Bear Tea every year, they also spend hours creating surgical bears to donate to CHKD. The bears, in an array of colors and patterns, are the perfect size for small hands to hold. Altogether, The King’s Daughters’ circles provide CHKD patients with more than 10,000 bears a year, one for every patient that undergoes a surgical procedure at the hospital.

“Those bears are so near and dear to everyone’s hearts,” Doreen said. “It is impossible to say just exactly how much this project means to the women in my group.” Bear assembly is an integral part of monthly meetings, and members also take bears home to work on. “I’m not a sewer,” Doreen said, “but I love to take bears home to stuff. It’s very relaxing and something different to do with my hands that’s not electronic.”

Doreen has been chosen to lead her circle in the coming year, and she is eager to serve. “I want everyone to benefit from volunteering and to enjoy our time with each other,” Doreen said. “I’m looking forward to a group tour of CHKD to keep the mission front and center in our minds. I don’t want anyone to ever forget the reason we’re all working so hard.”

Doreen and her husband Mike have been married for 32 years. The couple has a grown son and a granddaughter who just turned one. “No one can ever underestimate the magnitude of a healthy child,” she said. “Being part of The King’s Daughters is a daily reminder that you can never take good health for granted.”

BETTER PERSPECTIVE
Claire Parker, 17, was in the eighth grade when she joined the Serenity Junior Circle in 2012. Her mom is a member of the Larchmont Friends Circle, and when Claire found out about the junior circle, she knew it was something she really wanted to do. “[I] or one of my friends could have been a patient at CHKD,” she said. “Because of the hospital, more kids get the chance to grow up healthy.”

The first project Claire participated in was the Make a Scarecrow event, where families work together to build a life-sized scarecrow. Breakfast with Santa is another project Claire’s circle helps with. Each November, The King’s Daughters’ circles come together to create a magical event for children and their families. Kids have their pictures taken with Santa, make crafts, and enjoy breakfast. During the event, funds are raised by auctioning decorated Christmas trees, each with a different theme. “After my first event, I just knew I had to be in charge of decorating one of the trees at the next year’s auction,” Claire said with a laugh.

Now a senior at Maury High School in Norfolk, Claire is the leader for her circle, which is open to young women in grades 8-12. “One of my goals is to always be recruiting new girls to join the circle,” Claire said. “Our circle is for students, and that means members age out, so we always have to be on the lookout for younger girls to take their places.”

Claire is committed to keeping the circle going. “We tell our friends about the work we do, and we also advertise for new members at the middle and high schools,” she said. They use social media to promote meetings and are sure to include a special treat. “At the beginning of every school year we throw a pizza party as a fun way to introduce all the new members,” Claire said.

In addition to helping out with holiday-themed fundraisers, the Serenity Junior Circle members volunteer their time at the annual spaghetti dinner hosted by the Larchmont Friends Circle, as well as pitching in at kids’ craft tables and selling tickets for Norfolk Tides games. “Our goal is to always have fun while working toward a bigger cause,” Claire said. “We enjoy each other’s company and have a great time working at fundraisers to raise money for CHKD.”

Claire isn’t sure what life after high school holds. She is considering two schools in the D.C. area: American University and George Mason University. She hasn’t decided on a major yet, but film and communications are both potential areas of interest. Regardless of the school or major she chooses, Claire knows she will be using her experiences as a volunteer with The King’s Daughters.

“Because of my volunteer work, I have learned how to be more outgoing,” Claire said. “It has also made me a better leader. I have seen what other kids and their families are going through, and that has forced me to look beyond myself and my own circumstances to have a better perspective on the world.”

Find out more at www.kingsdaughters.org

Jamie McAllister is a freelance writer in Virginia Beach. She writes for businesses, nonprofits, and publications. To learn more, visit www.mcallisterwe.com.

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