Amy Moore Paterson ’94 turns survival into service for others

Amy Moore Paterson '94 was honored with the Points of Light Tribute Award last fall for her service effort to provide free child care in Portland, Ore.-area hospitals.
Amy Moore Paterson '94 was honored with the Points of Light Tribute Award last fall for her service effort to provide free child care in Portland, Ore.-area hospitals.

Why isn't babysitting available at most medical centers?

Amy Moore Paterson ’94 decided to answer that question, helping millions of parents and caregivers in the process.

Paterson conceived and co-created My Little Waiting Room, a free drop-in child care service now available at two hospitals in Portland, Ore. Caretakers at the licensed centers supervise infants and children through age 10. Parents with a medical appointment can use the service, as can anyone attending an appointment with a family member or visiting a loved one on the hospitals' campuses.

She was honored for this effort with a Points of Light Tribute Award in Washington, D.C., last fall, presented by Neil Bush. His father, President George H. W. Bush, inspired the creation of the non-partisan Points of Light Foundation to encourage the spirit of service. Paterson also was honored at Reunion 2014 with the Harriet Buescher Lawrence ’34 Prize, which recognizes alumni who are leaders in improving society or inspiring others for good.

Paterson realized the acute need for a waiting room for children when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2006. Then 34 years old, she and her husband, Justin Paterson ’93, had a 2-year-old son, Jonah. Paterson realized that with roughly 140 appointments for treatment in her future, she would be responsible for 140 instances when she would have to line up child care. She was puzzled over why babysitting was available at gyms and Ikea, but not at most medical centers.

“When I got my diagnosis, I felt that all the timelines in my life shifted,” says Paterson. She felt an urgency to realize some of her bigger life goals, such as “being more present” for her family. She was also “looking for a way to make some meaning out of a difficult situation.”

Paterson’s concept for My Little Waiting Room bloomed during weekly post-chemotherapy walks and talks with close friend Melissa Moore. They co-founded the child care service together. When Paterson finished her treatments in 2007, the two friends stepped into action.

“I was pretty weak after treatment,” she says, “but this was something I could do on my own terms, on my own time.” As she regained her health, Paterson says the idea “took on a life of its own. It was such a positive force that I guess I got swept up into it.”

The first facility opened in Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in 2010, the second in Providence Portland Medical Center in 2013. Staffed by Volunteers of America Oregon, the two centers combined receive between 450 and 500 children a week. Since opening, the centers have hosted 22,000 child visits.

Today, the nonprofit's goals are to increase visibility within the Providence Health & Services network to encourage others to open waiting rooms for children in their facilities.

As an English major who minored in theater, Paterson recalls her own participation as a student reader and participant on the Theater Department's advisory panel. The culture of service she experienced as a student, she says, still influences her interest in giving back.

“I like the phrase that goes something like, ‘Build a bridge from where you are today into the future,’” Paterson says. “This was a way to build a bridge that could feel really good.”

 — Jessica Trobaugh Temple

July 21, 2014