The Joy of 'Little Things': SPARKS at Roswell Park

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Pictured: Ladies waiting in the Breast and GYN Center were treated to tea and pastries this month as one of the surprises of the SPARKS program.

One day not long ago, board games appeared on tables in the Sunflower Café at Roswell Park with an invitation for diners to have some fun while they ate. Another day, patients waiting for appointments received packs of wildflower seeds to plant at home. In celebration of Mother’s Day, tea and sweets were served to ladies in the Breast and GYN centers.

Little treats, surprises and inspirational experiences — all tied to a monthly theme — pop up at different times, in different places, thanks to the SPARKS program at Roswell Park. The program began with the Experience Lab, which encourages healthcare organizations to create "meaningful and memorable experiences" for patients, guests and staff.

Building on themes and suggestions from the Experience Lab, Kara Eaton, MA, thinks up ways to amuse, inspire, entertain and engage everyone at Roswell Park through "little things — something different, unique." As Executive Director of the Patient/Family Experience, Eaton coordinates the SPARKS program with the Department of Human Resources. Earlier this year, the team installed a black-and-white mural and a caddy full of crayons inside the 7 West inpatient area, so patients, visitors and staff can relax for a few minutes and rediscover the fun of coloring.

The idea is to “spark joy in our patients, who are going through a challenging time,” explains Eaton. “We want to help them cope on different levels, whether it’s reducing stress for them, bringing a smile to their face, or providing different activities. We’re challenged with coming up with creative ideas every month.

"We want to offer something more than clinical care,” she adds. She thinks of the SPARKS surprises as “wrapping our arms around our patients” and giving them new ways to explore life’s simple pleasures.

This month’s theme: Intention. How will Eaton and her team carry out that theme? Wait and see.