Cliff Preston wasn’t always a baby person. Being the youngest of seven, he didn’t have to cuddle any baby brothers growing up.
When he volunteered at UF Health Shands Hospital for the first time, he struggled to calm down the fussing baby in his arms, he said. Twenty-five years later, he was nominated for his cuddling.
“I can’t say I jumped in there the first day and it was a great success,” he said.
Preston, 63, was nominated for the NASCAR Foundation Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award for his volunteer work as a baby cuddler at Shands in the neonatal intensive care unit.
He is one of four finalists who will be attending the winning ceremony Nov. 29 during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas, according to the foundation website. Online voting ends Monday.
Each contestant must have made a significant contribution to helping children and must be a NASCAR fan. Preston and his brothers grew up loving cars in the ‘50s, he said.
Each finalist will earn $25,000 for their charities, and the winner will receive an additional $75,000 for their charity, Preston said. None of the money goes to the contestants personally.
Preston started volunteering in the fall of 1992 and plans to continue for another 15 to 20 years, he said. He volunteers every Thursday for three hours cuddling babies in need of comfort.
“I am honored to be able to represent the hospital,” he said. “It gives me a platform to get the word out about our great hospital here and the lives it impacts.”
Preston never realized babies could be admitted into an intensive care unit until a nurse at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children told him about the program, he said. The need for volunteers to cuddle babies in Gainesville struck him.
The hospital staff wants to provide babies with comfort when their parents are not at the hospital, he said. So baby cuddlers come in and try to ease their pain.
“It spoke to my heart,” he said. “I just want to give the baby some comfort and peace for when I have them.”
Preston thought he would only do it for a year or two but felt too fulfilled to quit.
“It will be very hard when the time comes for me to let go,” he said.
Lindsay Krieg, the former director of volunteer services at Shands, nominated Preston in March, Preston said.
Krieg worked with Preston for five years. She chose to nominate him out of the about 4,000 Shands volunteers for the award. Preston has devoted endless amounts of time and energy to the NICU and has always been there for the hospital, she said.
Preston was always a pleasant volunteer to work with because of his positivity and care for others, Krieg said.
“When the award came up, Cliff was the perfect person for that role,” she said.
Cliff Preston, 63, was nominated for the NASCAR Foundation Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award for his volunteer work as a baby cuddler at UF Health Shands Hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit.