ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Down the hall and to one of the last doors on the left, you'll find baby John. He's now a healthy 9 pound baby boy, but he wasn't always that big.
Cuddle Corps volunteer of 20 years, Charlene Vassar cuddles with baby John at Providence's NICU.
John was born at 25 weeks, and Providence's NICU has been his home for the last four months. He's needs around the clock include holding and snuggling - and lots of it.
That's where volunteers and "professional cuddlers," if you will, Jackie Sites and Charlene Vassar, come in. They donate their time to snuggle and love on babies like John.
"We know we're helping with his development and we get to snuggle with babies, oh my gosh that's great," said Sites.
"They put everything into perspective," added Vassar.
Vassar lost her first grandson to SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
"I thought, just because I can't hold him anymore, doesn't mean I can't hold a baby," she said.
Someone told her about the Cuddle Corps Program. She signed up 20 years ago and have been cuddling little babies ever since.
"Some of the ones that are really really sick seem to grab at my heart, but I don't know, like I said I fall in love every week. They're all special, they're all up here because they're not quite ready to go home yet," said Vassar.
Sites became a volunteer after she retired and found herself sitting at home in front of the TV. She said, she figured she could be doing something else.
"You look at that little face and you just give him all of you that you can. I walk out of here and my heart is so big I could just tackle the world," she said.
Physical touch is important to a baby's development. It also allows mom or dad a break from the daily stresses of having a newborn in the hospital.
"We really encourage parents to bond with their baby and take the time that it takes for themselves to be healthy and good parents. You have to nurture the caregiver to nurture the baby," said Providence NICU Physical Therapist, Ginny McGill.
Baby John was able to go home and discharged on March 29, 2019.
If you're interested in volunteering opportunities at Providence, call (907) 212-3100 or visit < d href="https://alaska.providence.org/services/volunteer">