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Cuddler program provides both babies and parents with extra comfort

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HARTFORD--Imagine volunteering to love and comfort preemie babies at the hospital...

It's a real program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, one that has volunteers are lining up at the door to participate in!

Rocking back and forth is how Beth Reis, an official cuddler, spends one day each week at CCMC's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UCONN in Farmington.

“I’ve been able to do it for 10 years now,” she says with a smile as she gently comforts a little baby named Kimberly. “I feel really comfortable being able to calm them and have them go to sleep.”

Reis is part of a program that brings in volunteers to the NICUs in Farmington and in Hartford.

These caring helpers lend an extra hand to the unit’s busy nurses, who are often caring for several little ones at once.

"It's very comforting when cuddlers come in,” said Pat Thurston, a registered nurse at the NICU in Farmington.

Thurston is also the co-director of the cuddler program for this specialized unit.

"The statistics would show that nurturing touch, cuddling, and infant massage is all very important to babies of all ages,” Thurston commented.

Kimberly SerranoIt's also a piece of mind for parents who can't be there every hour.

Today, Reis is holding Kimberly Serrano, a baby whose been in the NICU for five months. She was born four months early, weight only 1 pound.

"It was a happy day to be able to see your child, but it was also hard because it's not how you want to see your child,” Kimberly’s father, Emmanuel Serrano, said during his visit to the hospital on Monday.

Emmanuel and his wife Jessica both work full time, but feel comforted "cuddlers" can step in when they can't be there for Kimberly.

"We appreciate every little thing that they do,” said Emmaneul. "At least somebody's taking care of her, watching over her."

Connecticut Children’s says there are 36 cuddlers in the program, and each volunteer goes through extensive background checks and are all up on their immunizations, including a yearly flu shot.

Sounds like a dream volunteer job, right?

cuddler program waiting list"There is a waiting list,” said Farmington’s NICU nurse manager, Lisa Dion. “And the cuddlers that we've had in our program have been with us for many years."

That waiting list is 56 people long, and as of now no one else is being added, but Connecticut Children’s is grateful to have the interest.

Those interested can still fill out an application and program leaders will keep it on file for six months, after which an applicant would need to submit an updated application.

To learn more about CCMC's volunteer programs and how to apply, click here, and for UConn Health's cuddler program, click here.