Erica Esposito is a junior at Glenelg Country School in Ellicott City and plans events and activities to help hospitals enhance their neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). While volunteering at a local hospital over the past few summers, Erica was struck by the stressful environment of the NICU, where babies born prematurely or with other health problems are cared for. The families of these tiny patients often face months of hospitalization and years of special needs, said Erica, plus the “unfamiliar sights, sounds, and equipment as well as the busy atmosphere can be very overwhelming.”
Knowing that one’s environment can have a big impact on the healing process, Erica began developing a project called “Ahead of Our Time” to help make NICUs less stressful and foster good relationships between the units and the families of their patients. She has recruited schoolmates, local Girl Scout troops, and NICU staffers to help brighten the facilities with artwork and photo albums, and has raised money for a series of monthly events. Her biggest undertaking was a reunion at the University of Maryland Hospital for “graduates” of its NICU and their families, which drew more than 200 attendees. She plans to host reunions for NICUs at other hospitals, and to expand her project eventually to include hospitals across the country.