National Nurses Week: Meet CNA Gwen Dickens

To celebrate National Nurses Week, we’re highlighting several members of the nursing department at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, as voted on by their colleagues. Today, meet Gwen Dickens, a certified nurse aide:




Hamda and Gwen Dickens. Photo by Re:Act Media. 

Gwen Dickens started working at St. Mary’s Home about 36 years ago, following in her sister’s footsteps. Her colleagues say Dickens, who has studied early childhood development, is a great team leader who loves children and has a sweet nature that brightens everyone’s day – and that she often goes beyond the call of duty.


After working mostly night shifts, Dickens switched to the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. shift about three years ago. That’s when she was assigned to Hamda’s room. Hamda didn’t smile much, and Dickens made it her mission, in addition to her regular duties, to make Hamda happy. 

The two have grown extremely close as they’ve established a daily routine centered around talks, walks throughout St. Mary’s 88,000-square-foot building and story time, with Dickens reading books that Hamda chooses. Hamda now smiles a lot as a way to express herself, especially when Dickens is around. Dickens also is Hamda’s constant companion during field trips into the community, such as excursions to the library or shops. 

“This is a special place and when you see a child’s accomplishment, it does your heart good to know that you have contributed in some small way to foster that accomplishment,” said Dickens, 55, of Norfolk. 

Photo by Re:Act Media. 

Hamda Goes to the Library

Gwen Dickens, a certified nursing assistant, reads to Hamda as part of their daily routine. (photo by Re:Act Media)

The little boy got up from the table where he was playing with toys and walked over to the group that had just come into the library. Looking at the girl in the wheelchair, he asked the adults with her, “What’s wrong with her?”

There’s nothing wrong with Hamda, explained Stephanie Bailey, a member of the recreational therapy staff at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children. She’s just maybe a little different from you, Bailey told the boy.

“Oh,” the boy responded, then went back to his table. Soon, he returned with a message for Hamda, who was visiting a library for the first time: “I’ll show you where all the books are.”

Hamda beamed.

She’s been doing that a lot lately.

The recreational therapy staff has been organizing weekly field trips for 7-year-old Hamda, such as a shopping excursion to pick out a new winter coat and the recent journey to the library. Her constant companion on the outings is Gwen Dickens, a certified nursing assistant.

Dickens has worked at St. Mary’s Home for 36 years, most of those years on the night shift. About three years ago, she switched to the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. shift and was assigned to Hamda’s room. Dickens has made it her mission, in addition to her regular duties, to make Hamda happy — and she’s succeeded. The two have grown extremely close as they’ve established a comfortable daily routine centered around talks, walks throughout St. Mary’s 88,000-square-foot building and story time, with Dickens reading books that Hamda chooses. Hamda didn’t smile much at first; now she smiles a lot as a way to express herself, especially when Dickens is around.

“This is a special place and when you see a child’s accomplishment, it does your heart good to know that you have contributed in some small way to foster that accomplishment,” Dickens said. 

Hamda (and Dickens) will be going back to the library soon. Hamda’s even applying for her very own library card.

Hamda and Gwen Dickens. (photo by Re:Act Media)

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Photos of the Sensory Garden at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children in Norfolk were featured yesterday in The Beacon, The Virginian-Pilot’s tab for residents in nearby Virginia Beach. The Junior Virginia Beach Garden Club funded the garden, and the photos accompanied an article about the club’s flower sale this weekend. The article isn’t online, but you can see one of the photos above. Taken last June when the garden was in full bloom, the photo (by Weyo) shows occupational therapy assistant Betsy Turner and 5-year-old Hamda enjoying the flowers.

Here’s a more recent photo, from a different angle, of the garden in its spring green finery:

The Junior Virginia Beach  Garden Club supports community projects including St. Mary’s Sensory Garden and the restoration of plantings at Crab Creek Boat Ramp near the Lesner Bridge in Virginia Beach. The flower sale is Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. For information, click here.