Eleonora is one of over 1000 volunteers at King’s, all of whom work hard alongside staff to improve patient experience. Following her volunteer role which she did for three years, she is now a permanent staff member at King’s. And amazingly, Eleonora still volunteers her time to help out at kids’ events at the hospital as well as working in her permanent role – what a superstar!
She tells us more about how she became inspired to work with children in clown and laughter therapy.
What is your volunteer role at King’s?
I volunteered for three years every Saturday as a Play Worker Coordinator, mainly on Rays of Sunshine ward. This was as well as my previous full-time job working with special needs children.
I enjoyed my volunteer work so much that a few months ago I applied for a job at King’s and now I’m working in the Paediatric Therapy Team. I’m still also a volunteer, but now as a Community Health Ambassador for specific events, such as the King’s Kids parties, where I entertain little patients and their siblings treated under the paediatric liver service.
What made you decide to become a volunteer?
Since I was a little girl, I’ve felt a gift of joy inside me that I wanted to share with children from a difficult pathway. So I joined a church group to help keep kids away from the streets through play activities, music and sports. I did this for more the 10 years.
At university I read an article about Clown Therapy and Patch Adams, the clown doctor who used laugh, happiness and love as a tool to cure his patients. I realised that was what I wanted to do in my life.
I did my Master’s thesis on Patch Adams’ therapeutic approach, to learn how to use Laughter Therapy in hospitals with children affected by chronic diseases like cancer. I also studied the relationship between stress and the immune system.
I volunteered in a children’s hospital for over six years. Even after I graduated and started my first job, I kept my placement there as Lead Clown Doctor using laughter therapy, magic tricks, balloons and sensory toys to help boost children’s recovery and feel more comfortable in hospital.
I’ve never stopped developing these therapies and approaches in my daily practice. I’ve practised them with autistic kids, severely delayed children, and children with emotional and psychological needs.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
Being surrounded by children is the best thing in the world! They’re fun, they can play and laugh in the most challenging situations. Children aren’t focused on being in hospital when they are playing and are immersed in a fantasy world through distraction and therapeutic play.
I love when we all end up playing and singing nursery rhymes with families and siblings. Parents always appreciate seeing their kids smiling and playing. We all know hospitals can be boring and a bit scary sometimes, so I use play as an activity to distract sick children from their pain.
The thing I like the most is listening to the patients because their dreams are always hugely inspirational. I remember helping one patient make a wish-list one day, and all he wanted was to be able to drink milk and eat fish fingers again.
Which part of volunteering is most challenging?
I’ve always worked surrounded by sick children and sadly some of them have passed away. I can’t deny this is very sad, but I always try to think about the happy memories they’ve left to me, and I feel blessed because I had the opportunity to be there for them, playing and laughing with them – and this is priceless.
As Patch Adams would say: “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”
What is your favourite thing about King’s College Hospital?
King’s gives everyone equal opportunities to achieve and grow, which is very rare. They trust me and give me the chance to use all my skills.
I enjoy having the privilege of being surrounded by highly-skilled professionals, and I’ve always felt part of the team.
What’s your proudest achievement as a volunteer to date?
Many times I’ve had parents come to me and say that their child was waiting for me, just to say thanks, with a big smile on their face. It’s nice to see that you have a direct impact on the children, and that what I do probably has an impact even once I’ve stopped playing with them.
Sometimes doctors have complained – of course very ironically – by saying things like, ‘This is not good! That child didn’t want to be discharged because he had too much fun with you today!’
What would you say to encourage others to volunteer for the hospital?
This is definitely one of the best volunteering opportunities out there. It’s a truly fulfilling experience and a great learning opportunity. I’ve attended many training sessions through this programme, such as communication training, which has been really good.
I was one of the lucky King’s volunteers who were selected to meet The Prince of Wales. It was a pleasure for me to welcome The Royal Highness at King’s, and to showcase the fantastic work we all do here.
What do you like to do outside of volunteering?
I go to lots of concerts – my partner is a musician so I’m very lucky to go to many in and outside London to watch him perform.
I love to support projects I believe in. I often help schools to raise money to improve children’s playgrounds. My personal fundraising style is balloon modelling! I set up my balloon modelling stall and I’m always surrounded by lovely kids who leave with a colourful balloon shape and, most importantly, with a big smile on their face.
Last but not least I meet lots of friends and tend to have long chats, usually with a nice pizza – I definitely love good food! My Italian genes are constantly needing good food.
If you could only take one thing to a desert island, what would it be?
I would take something that is very special to me. It’s a voice recording of my husband trying to use an adjective to describe me, mentioning every letter of the alphabet! I just think, if I can’t take him with me, at least I want something that reminds me of him.
I believe that love is the best answer to everything in life, so I think it’s also the best answer to this question too! .