Irv Williams, a dedicated grandfather, first experienced the world of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Portland, Maine, eight years ago, when his own grandson required specialized care as a newborn. Inspired by the compassionate caregivers who supported his family during that time, Williams made the decision to give back by becoming a volunteer at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center.
As a self-proclaimed “volunteer cuddler, rocker, or holder,” Williams dedicates four to five hours twice a week to comforting and nurturing sick or preterm infants until they gain strength and are ready to return home. During these precious moments, he engages in activities such as cuddling, singing familiar camp songs, and reading delightful storybooks to the little bundles of joy.
Although some might find it unusual to read to newborns, Williams believes it greatly contributes to their language development. In the NICU, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and beeping machines, these babies are not exposed to the soothing sounds of everyday life. By offering them the gift of storytelling, Williams creates a nurturing environment that supports their growth and well-being.
Beyond offering solace and warmth, recent studies have shown that infants with drugs in their system who receive cuddles from volunteers tend to have shorter hospital stays compared to those who do not. The power of touch and human connection can truly make a difference in a child’s recovery.
For Williams, devoting his time to children has always been second nature. With a career in education spanning from preschool to university levels, he considers his work as a NICU cuddler a natural continuation of his lifelong dedication to supporting young learners.
At 72 years old, Williams has been proudly serving as a NICU cuddler for approximately four years. His unwavering commitment to spreading love and comfort among these vulnerable infants serves as a beautiful reminder of the profound impact that compassion and care can have on their lives.
The Gift of Witnessing Miracles
Some infants are born weighing as little as 2 pounds and require an extensive stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before they gain enough strength to go home. Although challenging, this experience allows healthcare professionals, like Williams, to develop a deep connection with these tiny beings.
“I truly get to know these incredible individuals. It’s a remarkable feeling to witness their journey. When you see a 2-pound baby leave the NICU and head home, I feel immensely privileged to have been a part of their progress. It’s a truly awe-inspiring process,” Williams affirms. “The bond formed when their little fingers curl around yours is simply indescribable.”
While Williams primarily focuses on taking care of the babies during his shift, he also has the opportunity to interact with their families. In some cases, these family members travel long distances to be with their precious ones in the NICU.
Williams recalls an emotional encounter, as a mother expressed her gratitude by saying, “It brings me so much joy knowing that someone is holding my baby when I can’t be there.” Touched by her words, Williams admits that he was moved to tears. He humbly states, “But truly, the privilege is all mine.”
If you have a desire to make a difference in the NICU, volunteering may be a rewarding opportunity. Contact the volunteer coordinator at your nearest hospital to express your interest. Please keep in mind that the process typically involves interviews, background checks, and training. Due to the high demand for volunteer spots, it is common to encounter a waiting list.