By: Aliza Scheiner
Lost in thought, Mr. Ganz takes in his daughter’s tiny, sleeping form. She’s wrapped in blankets, one hand loosely thrown over her worn teddy bear. His eyes wander the room, taking in the playful artwork she’s colored, the discarded games. He’s had a long day, stuck in one inane business meeting after another, his mind fully occupied with his daughter. As was usual these days. He’d meant to leave work on time, even early, but something had come up, and then there was the traffic. And now his little angel is sleeping. That’s good, he supposes. Her face is slack, which means she isn’t in pain. He shakes himself out of his reverie and his senses are assailed with the beeping, the glaring lights, and the whiteness of the hospital.
She had a good day, Devora, his daughter’s beloved Kapayim friend is telling him as she packs her huge bag of educational toys. She’d been with the girl since 2:00, allowing Mrs. Ganz to get home in time to take the little ones off their bus. Devora had taught his daughter Parsha, made a carnival for her at her bedside, and created crafts. Mr. Ganz feels his shoulders relax for the first time that day. Yes, she had a good day, he whispers with relief.
Mrs. Ganz, too, was able to experience the tension drain away at the blessed knowledge of Kapayim’s aid. She’d come home with just a few minutes to spare before the bus arrived and dropped off her two preschoolers. She wanted to focus on the kids, but her mind was miles away in the hospital. She fought to stay calm, telling herself that help was on the way. And it came – in the form of Shaindy, another Kapayim volunteer.
What would Mrs. Ganz do without the daily homework help for her son, who has pages of Chumash worksheets to complete? Or the extra hand at bath time? Or the stories that Shaindy could spin that make the kids forget that they don’t like chicken with bones? And to think this goes on every single day. On Sundays and on days when school is out and time stretches endlessly, there are outings to jumping jungles and other kid-friendly places. On Shabbosim, Mrs. Ganz’s afternoons are freed so she can catch up on a sleep deficit that never seems to be filled. The extra help has become a necessity in life, something she can’t manage without during the long treatment days. Sometimes she wonders who looks forward to the Kapayim volunteers more – her kids or herself.
This snapshot is just one of 70 shifts that Kapayim covers a day as it helps seriously ill children and their families. With over 500 discreet volunteers helping over 80 families, Kapayim is a network of volunteers and coordinators who support families trying to cope with a child’s illness. Volunteers are designated to families, and stick with ‘their’ families for as long as they are needed, even accompanying their little friends to hospitals as far away as Bethesda or Boston. Fourteen coordinators arrange the complex shifts in multiple hospitals and homes for pediatric patients totaling approximately 400 shifts a week. That adds up to countless food packages, hundreds of rides to hospitals, tens of admissions to kid-friendly attractions, and hours upon hours of volunteer time logged per week.
The marvel of Kapayim, however, and its true uniqueness, is that when Kapayim says it will help a family during this trying time, it means it will help the entire family. Kapayim members may be drawn in to a situation by a particular child, but they realize that when an illness strikes a child, it does not attack only one frail body; it can infiltrate the whole family, burdening parents, and threatening to wreak havoc on the day-to-day functioning of the household. Therefore, Kapayim will send volunteers, as well as provide direct financial assistance for housekeeping help so that Mrs. Ganz can return home after a full day shift at the hospital with her young daughter not to the house she left in disarray after the morning scramble, but instead to folded laundry and a clean, peaceful home.
According to the parent of one sick child, Kapayim is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. When her coordinator laughingly asked her if Kapayim comes after Niagara Falls in its awesomeness, she responded firmly that it comes even before. With many years of experience, Kapayim understands what families are going through and can often fill a need before the family even realizes that there is one. Kapayim’s services are all customized based on the individual needs of each family, and are not limited by a predetermined list of approved actions. If the Ganz family needs babysitting for their infant, or a private teacher to help their little daughter stay on grade level with her Kriah despite hospitalizations, Kapayim will set up and pay for these vital services.
In short, Kapayim shoulders the responsibilities and worries that accompany news of illness so that the family does not have to struggle alone. Kapayim volunteers become, in essence, an extension of the family as they help carry families through the dark times, lighting the way with glow sticks and smiles.