Gloria Calderon says simply, “I love babies,” and this is what motivates her to take two buses every day, five days a week, from her home on West 96th Street to care for the babies as a volunteer at Bellevue Hospital.
Calderon is 84 and is known as “grandma” for nurturing infants and comforting parents at Bellevue since shortly after her retirement 21 years ago. She has logged more than 39,920 hours holding, washing, reading to and loving babies. Calderon was honored as HHC’s Volunteer of the Year during a ceremony at Gracie Mansion.
“I was speechless from the emotion,” said Calderon.
HHC recognized Calderon and 16 other outstanding volunteers who work in the public hospitals and nursing homes throughout the five boroughs, as part of National Volunteer Week. These individuals represent more than 8,000 men and women who together have dedicated nearly one million hours of service to the city’s public hospitals system over the last year. Volunteers serve as interpreters, patient librarians, patient advocates, newsletter writers, chaplains, and drivers who get patients to their appointments safely and on time.
“Volunteers like Gloria Calderon are a vital part of our mission to deliver quality, safe and compassionate healthcare to all,” HHC President Alan D. Aviles said.
Gloria Mattera, Director of Bellevue’s Child Life and Developmental Services, said parents understandably feel a tremendous amount of worry and stress with a sick infant and are often afraid to leave the baby’s side. But Calderon puts them at ease.
“They feel they can entrust the baby to her and she’s going to be very loving, very caring,” Mattera said.
Calderon grew up in Juncos, Puerto Rico, and lived in the Chicago area before moving to New York when she was 27. She has two children, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
She supervised a maintenance crew at Coler-Goldwater, retiring at age 62. But she soon got restless. She learned about the Department for the Aging Foster Grandparent Program on Spanish-language TV. It was the 1980s, during the crack cocaine epidemic, and drug-addicted mothers were abandoning their babies, dubbed “boarder babies.” Volunteers were needed to care for them. Calderon called and made an appointment.
She has no plans to stop her volunteer work at Bellevue.
“I’ll keep coming as long as I have strength in my legs and in my soul,” she said.
For information on current volunteer openings at HHC hospitals visit NYCService.org. Information on volunteering at HHC hospitals can also be found on HHC's web site at nyc.gov/hhc.
The volunteers honored were:
In The Bronx: Calixto Kahn, Jacobi; Carmen Rodríguez, Lincoln; and Pamela Lombard, North Central Bronx, Jacobi and Lincoln.
In Brooklyn: Rose Moe, Coney Island; Felix Martinez-Craft, Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Nursing & Rehabilitation Center; Irelle Gordon, Kings County; and Josefina Paradiso, Woodhull.
In Manhattan: Gloria Calderon, Bellevue; Joan Murphy, Bellevue; Robert Wilson, Coler-Goldwater; Lygia Kensenhuis, Coler-Goldwater; Dalia Soto, Gouverneur; Frizeel Rubain, Harlem; and Felicita Laguna, Metropolitan.
In Queens: Jorge Succar, Elmhurst, and Samuel Kleinman, Queens.
And in Staten Island: Robert Virtue, Sea View.