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American Family Children's Hospital

American Family Children's Hospital Names Every Day Hero

MADISON - Last Christmas Eve, Sherry Schalk decided to give a special gift to families and patients at American Family Children's Hospital. She donated her time to help serve them dinner.

"She approached each of us and said 'What can I do?'" recalls Mary Kaminski, director of patient and family services. "Patients during the holidays feel detached because they are not with their families. But this meal brought people together and started conversations. Sherry helped in facilitating this event."

Sherry's devotion to her role as a children's hospital volunteer for seven years has earned her the First Annual Flad Family Children Matter-Every Day Hero Award, which will be given yearly to an American Family Children's Hospital volunteer or staff who go over and above caring for patients and families.

The idea for the award started with the children of John and Colleen Flad, who spearheaded fundraising for construction of the hospital, which opened in July 2007. The children wanted to pay homage to their parents' philanthropy.

There was also a personal reason.

Colleen was 16 when her 4-year-old sister was diagnosed with leukemia and sent to UW Children's Hospital. The young girl eventually passed away.

"It was one of the most difficult times in my mother's memory and the family was completely overwhelmed," said daughter Jennifer Marino. "They were touched by the outpouring of love and support from doctors, nurses and volunteers. It's those people and everyday heroes she remembers to this day, and the type of people we are trying to acknowledge."

"While my parents and many other people played an important role in fund raising, it is the volunteers and other people that make the children's hospital the safe, reassuring, wonderful home away from home for every child and family that walk through these doors," she added. "Sherry is exactly the person we had in mind when you talk about this award. She will set the bar for this award moving forward."

Kaminski said Sherry performs her duties as a volunteer by keeping in mind the meaning of the letters that make up the word "child."

"Compassionate caregiver. Helpful. Involved. Listening emphatically. Dedicated to patient- and family-centered care. Sherry does all that," she said. "One could not ask for a more dedicated volunteer."

Sherry worked as a substitute teacher in her hometown of Walworth, Wisconsin before moving to Madison with her husband Dennis to be closer to their three sons, who were attending UW. She volunteers three days a week at the hospital's pediatric operating rooms and the fifth floor Playroom, and on Saturdays, coordinates the Pet Pals program, where volunteers bring their house pets to visit patients.

Patients and families, hospital staff and volunteers make nominations, and the winners are chosen by a committee of individuals from different hospital departments.

Sherry received the award in the presence of several hospital administrators including UW Hospital and Clinics Chief Executive Officer Donna Katen-Bahensky and American Family Children's Hospital Vice President Jeff Poltawsky.

Date Published: 05/04/2009

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