Fifteen Years of Supporting Families

Connelly Center becomes home away from home for parents, siblings

Published on in CHOP Family News

During the 19 months her infant son, Sean Jr., was in the Harriet and Ronald Lassin Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit, Jennifer DeWalt visited the Connelly Resource Center for Families on the eighth floor of Children’s Hospital every day, several times a day.

sean Sean Lassin Jr. "It was our place to relax, to rest," says Jennifer. "From the very first day, when Ray (Ciocco, Family Relations coordinator) gave me a big hug, everyone at the Connelly Center made me feel like I wasn’t going through this alone."

This spring marked the 15-year anniversary of the Connelly Center, and Ciocco, fellow coordinator Crystal Fennell, Family Relations supervisor and librarian Prentice Beckett, and Learning Center manager Linda Kocent, RN, MSN, FAHCEP, and her staff are still providing warm welcomes along with concrete services to families of outpatients and inpatients at CHOP.

What makes the Connelly Center so special?

The Connelly Center is one of only a few places in any U.S. pediatric hospital that offers three key services in one location:

  • A resource library with Internet access, printed materials, and librarians who help parents find helpful, reliable consumer health information on their child’s condition or disease; a children’s section with an array of books — both health-related and fun ones — movies and electronic games for all age levels
  • A host of hospitality services, including washers and dryers so parents can do personal laundry; five sleeping rooms available for families on a daily sign-up basis; a kitchen stocked with snacks and beverages, a refrigerator and microwave; work space so parents of long-term patients can work remotely; a lactation room; and a hotel-lobby-like area to relax
  • A Learning Center where nurses teach family members how to care for their child’s special needs to ease discharge and home care

Jennifer and her family took advantage of all the services. She was guided in learning about Sean Jr.’s conditions — chronic lung disease, bronchopulmonary dysplasia and pulmonary hypertension — the procedures he had (four surgeries) and the equipment (feeding tube and tracheostomy tube) he needed. In the Learning Center, nurses taught her how to care for his trach. She washed Sean’s little pajamas and his own bedding. She napped in the sleeping rooms and struck up conversations with other parents in the lounge area. Her two daughters, Tina and Ava, played in the children’s library, enjoyed story time and even had their own learning session with a child life specialist "so they wouldn’t be afraid of the trach," Jennifer says.

"I was adamant about keeping the family together," Jennifer says. "The Connelly Center became our daytime home. Ava grew up there, was potty trained there. She knew everybody."

Sean Jr. was discharged on Dec. 8, 2009, 11 days after his second birthday. His trach came out in July 2010, and he hasn’t slowed down since. He’s a rambunctious 4-year-old who jumps on the trampoline, takes a bus to preschool and keeps his parents on their toes. "He’s playing catch-up for all the time he missed," Sean Sr. says.

Sean Jr. still sees several specialists at CHOP, and whenever he and his family come to the Main Campus from their Berlin, NJ, home, they stop in the Connelly Center to say hello to the staff, whom they are proud to call their friends.

By the numbers

  • The Connelly Center hosted more than 40,000 visits from patients, families and guests in 2011 — double the number than when it opened in 1997!
    • More than 50 percent of visits include stops in the kitchen and laundry areas.
    • The library circulates more than 2,300 books a year.
  • More than 2,500 classes were taught in 2011.
  • More than 1,800 Patient-Family Education teaching documents are  available in the Connelly center; 15 percent are available in languages other than English.
  • More than 275 tours of the Center are given a year. Visitors from across the globe come to learn more about the Center; many hospitals have modeled their own resources centers after visits with CHOP’s team.