2022 Health Care Heroes: Pair serves as ‘backbone’ of Eskenazi volunteer effort

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Cynthia Chowning (left) and Jonita Shaw volunteered at Eskenazi during the pandemic. Recently, they’ve sewn blankets for babies there. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Honoree, Volunteer
Cynthia Chowning and Jonita Shaw
Eskenazi Health Volunteer Services

For more than a year, Jonita Shaw and Cynthia Chowning have been working alongside one another, volunteering with Eskenazi Health.

They got to know each other when Shaw was a caseworker and Chowning was her client. Both wanted to be more socially engaged and saw the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to volunteer.

Initially, they wanted to be part of Eskenazi’s Cuddle Buddies program, rocking, holding and comforting babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. But that program was paused during the pandemic.

So instead, they started helping out at a drive-thru food distribution program that Eskenazi launched to help vulnerable Marion County residents during the pandemic.

Shaw and Chowning soon evolved into official Eskenazi Health volunteers and faithfully served the food assistance program twice a week, regardless of the weather.

Then, when the program started doing home deliveries to quarantined, at-risk patients, Shaw and Chowning immediately answered the call for volunteers.

“Their resilient dedication resulted in the distribution of food deliveries to 25 households per week,” Scott Lawson, manager of volunteer services at Eskenazi Health, wrote in their nomination.

That program has now concluded, but Chowning’s and Shaw’s service to Eskenazi has not.

Despite the fact the hospital system had to redesign its volunteer programs during the pandemic, extremely limiting volunteer opportunities, Shaw and Chowning have continued to find creative ways to contribute, including a different way to help sick babies.

Shaw said she taught Chowning how to sew, and they’ve put together and donated more than 100 small blankets for the babies in that department.

They’ve also donated time serving lunch to busy health care workers.

Chowning said volunteering with the hospital gives her something to do.

And Shaw said they both agree some of the work is hard, but they enjoy giving back.

“We both are worn out by the time we get done, but we still do it,” she said. “It’s not easy work.”

In 2021, they donated more than 412 hours of their time to Eskenazi programs. Lawson said their drive to serve is incomparable.

“They continue to be the backbone to many of our efforts,” Lawson wrote. “I can always count on this selfless volunteer team to donate their time wholeheartedly. … Their energy and compassion is always present.”

At the end of March, Shaw told IBJ she had just learned the Cuddle Buddies program was getting ready to restart. She and Chowning were eager to continue volunteering together, finally getting the chance to serve the program that drew them to Eskenazi in the first place.•

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