Residents, patients and parents enjoy Date Nite

Advocate Children’s Hospital-Oak LawnParents, residents and child patients have different reasons to enjoy Date Nite at Advocate Childrens Hospital. Photo by Claudia Parker. has partnered with the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn to offer respite service for children with disabilities.
The pediatric resident program at ACH-OL is an arduous three years of eighty-hour workweeks. The residents are collectively known to many as the house staff of the hospital because the majority of their life is spent there. Yet, many of them are managing to squeeze juice from a turnip to provide respite to parents and caregivers of children with special needs.
Many parents have felt anxious about leaving a child with a disability in the care of others. The concern is reasonable. Even so, having a medical expert, specialized in child development, to babysit- in a museum, should erase apprehension like a mistake written with a No. 2 pencil.
The CMOL hosts Date Nite Respite once a quarter. It’s two, fun-filled hours of complimentary childcare on a Saturday evening where each child is paired to play with a resident doctor or medical student.
Before Leanne Mihata became a Pediatrician out of Springfield, Ohio, she too was a resident at ACH-OL. She’s known to be as passionate about parent-child relations as she is child development. She spearheaded the Date Nite Respite program in 2010.
Adam Woodworth of Lockport has been the Executive Director of the CMOL for eight years. He said, “I too have a child with a disability. I understand how important these programs are to families.”
In 2011 Mihata completed her residency and relocated to Ohio. At that time, Molly Phillips of Tinley Park and Kim Arvidson of Oak Lawn became the new coordinators. Arvidson “There are three medical schools feeding into Christ,” Arvidson said. “We maintain a continuum of volunteer residents.”
Arvidson went on to say the amount of hours a resident works pales in comparison to the 24/7 job a parent has.
“Two hours? It’s the least we can do to help.” she said, with a smile.
The Illinois Respite Coalition has a library with 24 organizations that can assist those with unending needs. The special need may include chronic, terminal, physically emotional, cognitive or mental health condition requiring ongoing care and supervision, including Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, developmental disabilities, and children with special medical needs. Visit http://www.illinoisrespite.org/
 The initial participants derived from Mihata’s resident clinic. Today, there are 30 patients of various residents driving the initiative. Parents say their children enjoy being with the residents. The program for Date Nite Respite is currently at capacity. However, if you have a child with a disability that would be interested, please send your request to [email protected] to be added to the waitlist.
Woodworth said Date Nite Respite is just one of several initiatives for those with disabilities. He said, “The CMOL organizes an annual Easter Egg hunt for kids with disabilities, complete with beeper eggs so that blind children can participate.”
Inclusivity for all visitors isn’t just a goal for the CMOL, Woodworth is striving to make it the standard.
“When I’m out on the museum floor, I’m looking at exhibit placement and asking myself questions like, ‘Can a wheelchair fit through here’? or ‘How will this exhibit work for a child who is vision impaired?’’’ 
Woodworth said there’s a new exhibit in the works called “What if…”  This exhibit will allow visitors to experience an inkling of what a disability is like. It will include activities like learning basic sign language and lip reading “If” they were hearing impaired. It will also feature a “What if… I were vision impairment?” where kids will perform every day activities blindfolded. The objective for the exhibit is to create an understanding of what people experience while living with limitations.
The CMOL has several adults with disabilities who volunteer. The museum has a partnership with Park Lawn and the Garden Center. Woodworth said, “Through Park Lawn’s jobs program, we hired a young lady with down syndrome back in 2009.  Later this year she’ll be celebrating 5 years as an employee with us.”
The museum’s mission is to positively impact every child’s potential in life through play-based education. There are several ways to get involved, such as volunteering or making a donation. The CMOL is a 501(c)(3) organization which means, any donation made to the museum is tax-deductible. Visit www.cmoaklawn.org.

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