In response to the story about volunteer "cuddlers" for opioid-dependent newborns, dozens of readers have asked how to join the effort.
"I am a recently retired elementary teacher and I am looking for worthwhile volunteer programs. This sounds wonderful," one reader emailed.
In general, the answer is straightforward: Hospitals have volunteer offices that accept applications, conduct interviews, and oversee placements, including for cuddler programs. Search the hospital's website for "volunteer services" to find an application and information. If you don't like to use a computer, call the hospital and ask for the volunteer office.
"Everyone must apply regardless of where they want to volunteer," said a spokesperson at the Virtua health system (virtua.org) in South Jersey.
Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia uses cuddlers and you can find their volunteer office webpage here.
But not all hospitals enlist cuddlers in their newborn intensive care units, so find that out first. And while an oversupply of altruistic people is hard to imagine, some hospitals actually have more volunteers than they can use.
Thomas Jefferson University, site of the cuddler program featured in Sunday's story, has a backlog of applications from people who want to help with patients, do clerical work, act as escorts, or work in the gift shop. The neonatal intensive care unit is creating a waiting list of would-be cuddlers, but you still need to start by leaving your name and number with the volunteer office at 215-503-0556.
Jefferson may be a particularly popular site. For each four-hour shift, volunteers receive a cafeteria meal voucher, a hospital pharmacy discount, and an invitation to attend lectures and special events.
In any case, it's heart-warming to know this region is full of good-hearted people who want to open their arms to babies.