Driscoll Children’s Hospital volunteers bring joy to patients and families

Laurie Synowiecki oversees volunteer services in the Rio Grande Valley for Driscoll Children’s Hospital, which treats more than 150,000 patients across South Texas each year. When new volunteers come onboard, she’s the first to point out her background isn’t in health care — but that’s exactly what makes Driscoll Children’s Hospital so special.

Healing at Driscoll goes beyond hospital rooms and exam tables. Instead, it’s often found in the interactions patients and their families have with volunteers from their own communities.

“The whole purpose of a volunteer is to make these kiddos’ day a little bit brighter,” explained Synowiecki. “Although the child is the patient at Driscoll, it also includes their families. Because this could be a hard time for anyone — parents, siblings, grandparents.”

Making a challenging experience a little easier through measures of kindness instead of medical results is how Driscoll volunteers make a difference.

Now, there are more opportunities for community members to get involved. In May, Driscoll Children’s Hospital is set to open in the Rio Grande Valley, marking a significant milestone in the region’s health care landscape.

Synowiecki is spearheading the recruitment and coordination of volunteers at the new hospital with a vision of building a compassionate and dedicated team — one that’s crucial to fostering a nurturing environment within the hospital’s walls.

Transcending illness, instilling joy

Volunteers at Driscoll Children’s Hospital are more than just helping hands; they bring light to the lives of young patients and their families. Through many service initiatives, like the gift shop, toy and book distribution and the art cart program, volunteers engage directly with patients, bringing smiles and moments of joy during difficult circumstances.

“There’s no better way to transcend the confines of illness than to keep kids energized and happy by doing things that they like to do — whether it be arts and crafts, or reading books, or just talking and joking with someone who is like a friend,” said Synowiecki.

Smiles replace tears and uncertainty gets lost in moments of painting butterflies with wings that span all the colors of the rainbow.

Still, volunteers can’t make all the pain go away.

Synowiecki often shares this experience with her new volunteers: While painting with a young boy, attempting to take his mind off his upcoming procedure, it was his parents who instead needed her attention.

“At some point, I glanced over, and I noticed this look on their faces that just really hit me,” she said.

In that moment, she witnessed the silent struggles of parents grappling with their child’s illness.

She later learned the boy was to receive his first chemotherapy treatment that day.

To Synowiecki, volunteering goes beyond just fulfilling an obligation; it represents a deep dedication to empathy, kindness and understanding. It serves as a reminder that even in the face of illness, there are opportunities to build meaningful connections one small gesture at a time — whether that’s creating art, sharing a smile or a cup of coffee.

“Some days, it’s hard. Some days, it’s really hard,” she said. “I feel it’s very important that our volunteers really understand the meaning of why they are here.”

As Synowiecki guides volunteers through their own journey of service, she reminds them that volunteering is fun and rewarding, but it also carries a profound responsibility — one that makes Driscoll the caring center it is today.

An everlasting legacy

For over 70 years, the hospital’s auxiliary, comprised of dedicated men and women, has been a driving force behind Driscoll’s mission. Through fundraising efforts and volunteerism, they have played a pivotal role in enhancing patient care and comfort, ensuring that every child receives the support they need to thrive.

Through fundraising efforts, the auxiliary financially supports Driscoll Children’s Hospital, having contributed over $6 million since 1952. Some gifts to Driscoll include: $750,000 toward the Pavilion Neonatal Intensive Care Center, $750 toward the Pavilion Heart Center, $100,000 toward the Neonatal Care Center, $100,000 for the purchase of cardiology equipment in Driscoll’s Heart Center, $45,000 toward the Driscoll Pediatric Sleep Center and $50,000 toward the new Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley.

As Driscoll expands its presence in the Valley, volunteers stand as its heart and soul, bringing warmth, kindness — and hope. Their strong commitment to helping others shows how caring can really make a difference, especially during tough times.

In the hospital’s hallways, volunteers like Suzanne Sifuentes create a sense of community, showing compassion to everyone who comes in. As Driscoll moves forward, their dedication continues to inspire, guiding patients and families toward healing and wellness.

“My feeling is when I come to Driscoll is that — I get to come to Driscoll,” Sifuentes said. “I get to be here today; I get to interact with these patients and families. And I thoroughly, just wholeheartedly, enjoy it.”

cross linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram