Originally created 09/25/01

Book cart brings smiles to sick children



SAVANNAH - Larry J. Wooten II looks like a pretty intimidating guy.

He looks like he eats right, works out and doesn't take much attitude from anyone, all of which are important when you're a probation officer.

But he also does a mean Mickey Mouse impersonation.

About once a week, Mr. Wooten reads to young patients at The Children's Place at Candler Hospital. And he always does the voices, even the high-pitched girly ones like Mickey's, just to get a smile out of a child who might not have much to smile about.

"You look at the kids as if they're your little brother or sister," he said. "You just want to make them feel good."

Mr. Wooten's brand of medicine comes in the form of books, but he might not have anything to dispense if it weren't for a partnership formed recently between The Children's Place, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Earlier this summer, a book cart was purchased for The Children's Place, a 20-bed unit that occupies the north end of Candler Hospital's fifth floor and serves children suffering from illnesses ranging from the common cold to sickle cell disease. The goal is to fill the cart's shelves with books donated by members of the community, which will ensure that volunteers such as Mr. Wooten will always have something to read to the children in the hospital.

So far, about 20 books have been donated, along with some monetary contributions, said Melanie Smith, a community relations manager at Barnes & Noble. Any book can be donated, though the store keeps a list of requested titles.

Tami Jeffers, a financial analyst at Candler, bought a copy of Little Brown Bear for the cart in July. The book is dedicated in memory of Ethan, her infant son who was born with a congenital heart defect in January. He died the next month.

"I was at work and having a bad day so I went to the bookstore and found a book I liked," Mrs. Jeffers said, adding that she and her husband have talked about donating a book every year on their son's birthday. "I hope the kids will get enjoyment out of the book because we know it's not any fun to be in the hospital."

Melanie Howard, a registered nurse at The Children's Place, says the volunteer readers brighten up the days of the young patients and the volunteers.

"Sometimes you can't tell which one is the kid," she said. "Reading takes their minds off of being sick and puts them in a different world."



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