Why I Started Helping Hand Babysitting

Written in January of 2015

Three summers ago, I began stopping by my neighbor Katie's house sporadically to help out with her three young children, Gina, Ally, and Dylan. At first I saw these stopovers as meager acts of charity as I bobbled a toy in front of one kid or played peek-a-boo with the other while Katie made a phone call or folded laundry. Soon, however, I found myself growing attached to the three pudgy baby faces, and their itsy curlicues, and their wobbling walks. But, more strikingly, I became attached to Katie's buoyant personality; no matter how many whimpers she had to mollify, and no matter how many teeny shoes she had to tie, and no matter how many bowls of Cheerios she had to pour, she would always turn to me with the same electric surge in her eyes and remark about Gina, "Is she not just the greatest thing?"

Gina had been diagnosed with leukemia at age two in May 2009 and underwent treatment until she was declared cancer-free in July 2011. It was breathtaking to think that Katie was not even slightly sour after such a grueling journey, but, in stark contrast, was gracious just to relish in Gina's presence. More over, despite winning possible rights to being complacent or ignorant after the battle beside her daughter, Katie was eager to go head-on back into the fight with fundraisers and blood-drives. I was in awe of her elasticity, and this spurred a need within me to assist such a heroic individual as Katie with hopes that I could give her even just glimpses of relief from the struggle she had willingly thrown herself back into on behalf of her bottomless love for her daughter.

I continued to babysit Gina, Ally, and Dylan, and I helped Katie with her three blood drives and charity garage sales in 2012, 2013, and 2014. I usually came over three times a week for several hours in which I made posters for cancer events, played with the kids, cleaned up around the house, or organized the raffles that had been gathered. My work seemed futile compared with Katie's never-ending physical and mental toil from coordinating such large-scale events, yet the countless, countless, countless thank-you's from Katie assured me that my work was meaningful.

Soon it occurred to me just how many Katies there must be in the world; how many mothers had children with cancer, or even cancer themselves, that constantly felt the pressure to keep up with life while still struggling to savor their time with their children. What if there were passionate, diligent people devoted to making that family's journey slightly less burdensome by offering assistance with the little errands so they could focus that much more on scaling the intimidating mountain that is cancer? Moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, and children of cancer patients have no choice but to dedicate every ounce of themselves to preserving the wellbeing of their family. However, they need assistance in undertaking such a trying yet unavoidable commitment; they need a helping hand.

Helping Hand Babysitting offers the reliability, energy, and compassion that families desperately need during the horrific trudge through cancer. Whether a mother needs someone to look after her kids for a few hours without having to pay for a babysitter while she goes to an appointment, or someone to entertain the siblings as she reads a book to a sick son or daughter, or someone to do a load of laundry so she can catch up with a friend on the phone, these volunteer babysitters will exhibit the nurturing spirit and liveliness that will allow a parent like Katie to take a moment to themselves guilt-free. I want to gather as many babysitters as possible to create a system of volunteers that will offer this free babysitting to families that apply for the help. Interested volunteers will indicate the days they are available and how far they can travel so that they may be paired with compatible families.

This past summer, over 30 volunteers from Our Lady of Mercy Academy did more than 170 hours of service for 7 families on Long Island. I received only positive feedback from the families as well as the girls. The volunteers took pride in their work and the families witnessed the compassionate attitude instilled in a Mercy girl.

As a Junior at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, I have witnessed the astounding charity of the Sisters of Mercy and how this spirit of giving has truly infiltrated the body of students as well. I am grateful for the remarkable environment I have been warmly welcomed into, and I hope Helping Hand Babysitting will be a way to spread the feeling of peace I have found at Mercy to families in need; as Catherine McAuley explained, "Our charity must be in our hearts and from our hearts, and a charity such as Jesus Christ practiced while on earth."

Thank you for your time,

Elizabeth Stiles

OLMA '16