Cheerful music plays softly in the background of the sunny playroom at Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento. "Do you have a good memory, Edgar?" Child Life Program volunteer Susan Rumberg asks. Edgar McKnight, 11, who is tired of being hospitalized, replies with a confident "Yes!" Rumberg laughs, and challenges him and his brother to a game of Memory Match. The feeling of confinement fades as they play a boisterous game.
The time Rumberg spends here is "a sacred commitment," she says. Her even temperament is soothing. Her sense of humor is invigorating. She heals through comfort and entertainment. "The goal of a Child Life Specialist is to make the environment as normal as possible," she says. "They are facing many challenges. A child needs to be a child, have the opportunity to play, interact with their peers and do what they do at home."
Rumberg began volunteering at Sutter in 2006 during an internship for her schooling to become a certified Child Life Specialist. After her internship she became employed at the UC Davis Mind Institute working with children and families. She loved the Sutter environment so much she continues to volunteer here part time. Formerly she worked in public television broadcasting, but after volunteering in a pediatric hostpital in the early 2000s something resonated with her and she became a "mid-life career changer," she said. "Volunteering was a nice antedote to dealing with things and papers," she said. "I like dealing with people better."
Below she brings toys to the room where 2-year-old Diana Martinez is staying, surrounded by her family. She's seen this family before. "It's sometimes hard not to get attached to the families," she said.
March is Child Life Month and Sutter is joining hospitals around the country to honor the people who bring brightness to children facing a dark time in their lives.
Rumberg believes that such interaction can help a child heal. After a surgery or other traumatic medical proceedure a child might be so down that they do not want to leave their room or try to walk, but with toys in the playroom or therapy dogs to look forward to a child has an incentive to get out of bed. "It's a natural goal for healing," Rumberg said. "It's getting them into a bright active environment."
She enjoys showing children the closet full of toys and games, below. "It's so much fun to see their eyes get so big because it's like a toy store," she said.
There is great variety is Rumberg's volunteer work here. She works with children ages 0-18 years old. She might be in the playroom playing games or doing arts and crafts, helping with homework, or visiting children in their rooms. "To me I hope I contribute something as a volunteer," she said. "But when I walk away I come away with a lot more, a sense of satisfaction. It gives you a chance to reflect on your own life."
Rumberg is also a grandmother of three young children. "If they were ever in the hospital I would like them to be where there are volunteers that care as much about them as I care about these kids."
Do you know someone who dedicates themselves whole-heartedly to a cause? Please email your suggestion for the I Care column to Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.