Joel, a resident of the Center for Medically Fragile Children, enjoys bubbles with volunteers Michele Gray and her son J.J. as part of this summer’s Camp PLAY at Providence Child Center. (Courtesy Providence Child Center)
Joel, a resident of the Center for Medically Fragile Children, enjoys bubbles with volunteers Michele Gray and her son J.J. as part of this summer’s Camp PLAY at Providence Child Center. (Courtesy Providence Child Center)
When Napoleon struts his stuff in the outdoor play area at the Center for Medically Fragile Children — part of Providence Child Center in Northeast Portland — all eyes are on him. That’s not only because he’s an alpaca visiting a hospital campus, but because he’s decked out in a bejeweled array of bright tassels, flowers and ribbons. Napoleon knows he looks good.

The center’s caregivers provide round-the-clock care to children with profound health conditions. And Napoleon helps by just being himself.

One of his favorite things to do is give kisses. Nuzzling the neck of center resident Joel, Napoleon patiently waits for a slow smile as Joel feels the soft fur and ticklish face near his. Resident Amelia moves her face toward Napoleon when it’s her turn for nibbling alpaca kisses.

Longtime volunteer Michele Gray and her 15-year-old son, J.J., were there to help the kids experience and enjoy their alpaca visitor. Michele has three kids, and all of them have volunteered at the center.

“I feel it’s important for them to work with other kids and to be of service,” she said. “It spurs great conversations at dinner.” There are about 210 regular volunteers at the center, which is supported by donors.

Activities such as animal therapy are important to residents, said Kerry Steeb, manager of therapeutic recreation and volunteers. “We see a lot of smiles, and they get to experience tactile sensations and new interactions.”

Each summer, kids at the center get visitors from Camp PLAY, which stands for Providing Laughter and Adventure for Youth. Napoleon, as well as Rojo the llama, are frequent visitors during the annual camps during wild kingdom week. Other themed weeks for this year’s camp sessions included aquatic discovery, music, carnivals and a virtual trip around the world.