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  • Writer's pictureShanghai Expat Association

Heart to Heart does it with Love

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

By Lori Ozdowy

How would you describe your current situation? You’re a new expat in Shanghai or you’ve already been here a few months—or years? Your children are in school all day? You’re an empty nester? Your spouse is working but you left your job behind? You’re looking for ways to keep busy—in a meaningful way? Well, you’re in luck! Heart to Heart (H2H) is a local organization that provides an opportunity for volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of low-income children and their families.

“Volunteers at Heart to Heart come from various backgrounds, professions, and age groups, and speak a variety of languages,” said Jules Gonzalez, playroom volunteer. Kerry Guthrie, Assembly and Donations Support Coordinator, explained that the majority of H2H volunteers learn about the organization via word-of-mouth recommendations, “or they visit a H2H booth at one of the many markets and bazaars we are invited to attend.”

The prospective volunteers can then visit the H2H website to learn more about how it all works. Beginning at the home page, click on Projects to display a list of the various ways that donations (in the form of money, time, and items) are used. A comprehensive description of the various volunteer roles is found under the Volunteering tab. Whether it's interacting with children in the playroom, helping with sorting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, events, or management, H2H has something for everyone’s skill set and interests. If you’re wondering what can be donated, and how, click on Donations.

What does a H2H assembly volunteer do?

On arrival at the hospital, volunteers can take the elevator to the 3rd floor and turn left to find the two H2H rooms. “Or give us a call, we will meet you and bring you up,” said Karen Carrington, Executive Director. “Our (Karen and DJ) phone numbers can be found on the website, (under Donations).”

On Assembly days (every Tuesday morning and the last Thursday night of each month), the type of work will depend on the quantity of donated items. According to DJ, Assembly and Donations Manager, “When we have a roomful of donated items, we need to spend our time sorting. New seasonal clothing and toiletries are placed in boxes to be given to the families of our sponsored children while they are in the hospital (families stay in the hospital room with the patient); baby items, toys, clothes—divided by male and female sizes—are checked and put into bags to be taken into the country (more on that later); and, although we prefer that they’re not donated at all, even dirty, stained or broken items are set aside to be re-purposed or recycled.”

What happens to the bags of donated items? “Three times a year, H2H fills a bus with all the bags that will fit, squeezes in a few volunteers, and spends the day traveling to the rural villages of some of their sponsored patients. Once a year, we ship our bags of donated items to a location too far away to travel by bus. Volunteers travel by plane or train to the location and help distribute the goods to those needy villagers.”

The heart bear, created to raise awareness of the H2H organization, is sold at bazaars—which take place at schools, community events, and social organization coffee mornings. According to the H2H website, the sale of 166 bears will provide the funds to cover one child’s cardiac surgery. Originally, the bear was dressed in a knitted cardigan. “Our knitting volunteers do their work at home, or sometimes gather to knit and chat. Some even live in other countries and find ways to get their knitted cardigans to us here in Shanghai” said sewing volunteer Stefanie. “The knitting instructions are online, so it makes it easy for volunteers to see what is needed.” The bear’s wardrobe has now been expanded to include denim wear and dresses. “I really enjoyed coordinating the donated fabrics to design and sew the new summer dresses,” said Laura Lange, one of the sewing volunteers. “I can take the material home and work on my own schedule. Donations of fabrics in bright colors or small patterned prints, along with ribbons, trim, and lace, work the best.”

Businesses can also contract a unique bear outfit, as did a local spa with a robed bear, and a school that chose to dress their bears in a rendition of their school uniform. Sometimes the assembly volunteers are called on to do other tasks such as dressing the bears, sewing on the H2H heart, or tagging the bear with the name of the sponsored child. Christmas is the busiest time as H2H designs a new unique outfit for the bears each year.

Companies, schools, social organizations, or any group can schedule a session for their employees, students, or members to volunteer. The purpose of these events is to work together as volunteers, so the H2H coordinators schedule these sessions on non-assembly days. “We think it’s great when an organization comes to volunteer, and they realize there are many jobs that need to be attended to for H2H to operate smoothly. Many are often surprised there are no paid staff at H2H,” Kerry said.

What does a H2H Playroom volunteer do?

The H2H children’s playroom at Yodak Cardio-Thoracic Hospital is open for two hours every afternoon. In reality, it’s two rooms full of toys, books, art supplies, puzzles, and many other bits and pieces that help to keep little children engaged and happy. Volunteering in the playroom starts with an orientation. As Playroom Manager Ann Carey explains, “Our orientation session is designed to help everyone understand the procedures we need to follow for looking after children in a hospital, such as washing hands before and after entering the playroom, disinfecting the play areas, not attending if you’re sick, and helping to organize a replacement. We like to have 3 volunteers scheduled each day. The signup sheet is online so it’s easy to see which days are full and which are open.” As the children play, the volunteers interact and help as needed. As their parents (or other family members) look on, a confident boy practices his English with Jules while a creative girl shows Joanna Giba her latest artwork. “You don't have to be able to speak or understand Chinese to play and interact with the children. We communicate through gestures and facial expressions. The most important thing in the playroom is not the language, but in fact, is the simple act of giving your time to just be there. The children love puzzles and drawing, and these simple activities can give so much joy and happiness in what is often a difficult time for the children and their families. So, don't be scared, you just need to give some time and you will make a difference in a child's life,” said Joanna.

Other ways to volunteer

H2H also needs volunteers to participate in events that have been organized by other organizations. This role is well suited to those who aren’t free during the week. There are management positions available as well, helping H2H behind the scenes. For more information on these possibilities, visit the H2H website,, select Volunteering and then click on the + before Events or Management.

About the author: Lori Ozdowy is a long-time expatriate, with over 14 years spent living overseas. She is an active member of SEA and attempts to make the most of their many events, trips, and volunteer opportunities.

Original Courier publish date: September, 2018

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