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In the dog days of summer, most young adults pass their precious time off from school earning a paycheck, enjoying their friends and building their resume. Some particularly big-hearted youths volunteer their vacation months to help people they’ve never met before.
Such a group can be found in the halls of USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. Ranking from rising high school juniors to incoming college freshmen, the 61 participants of this year’s Summer Teen Volunteer Program hail from Mobile and Baldwin counties.
They’ve helped out in a range of volunteer positions; through June and July, these dedicated students have assisted families in the surgery waiting room, acted as office runners and handled basic administrative tasks, created fun activities for school-age patients in the upstairs inpatient classroom, led entertainment in the Teen Lounge and even put on special events with Child Life and the Ronald McDonald House Family Room staff.
All the while, the students have learned about health care, civic duty, stewardship and most importantly, about putting patients first.
“Many teen volunteers who enter our program are undecided about their career path,” said Belinda Baggett, director of Volunteer Services. “Some are already planning what kind of doctor or nurse they want to be. Most volunteers use this experience to explore career options.”
Those already eyeing a health care career are testing their ability to work around all the sights and sounds of a hospital, Baggett said. But all of them, regardless of career outlook, share a common desire to help others.
The gravitas of helping patients is not lost on these teens; several have been exposed to the rigors of medicine through their parents, who work full-time at the hospital. It also isn’t uncommon for former patients to come back to the hospital to pay forward the same quality of service they once received as pediatric patients, or as babies treated in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Erica Kercher, a 17-year-old junior at Fairhope High School, served this summer as an office volunteer and greeted patients at Strada Patient Care Center, across the street from Children's & Women's. Kercher recently honored her 10-year anniversary of surviving an arteriovenous malformation, commonly known as a stroke or AVM, that caused her to relearn everything.
For the anniversary, Kercher brought 10 balloons and a heartfelt card to the physician who provided her life-saving care: Dr. Anthony Martino, professor, and chair of neurosurgery at the University of South Alabama.
“Erica’s story brings the purpose of this program full-circle; it shows why the program helps our community,” says Baggett. “On a personal level, it’s a platform for volunteers to give back, grow and learn.”
The 2017 Summer Teen Volunteer program concludes this week, but learning doesn’t stop. When high school begins, several will continue helping out on weekends or after-hours, compounding the 1,650 hours that students logged this summer.
“We have witnessed teens who attend the same high schools but never crossed paths until our summer volunteer program,” said Volunteer Services Specialist Rebekah Warren. “They develop instant friendships based on their new found common background and sense of service.”
As thanks for their time and commitment, volunteer leaders planned a fun and informational event for the teens with a Gulf Coast Ducks Tour last week.
“We wanted to give them a better perspective of the community they’re serving, and let them have fun and relax together after their exciting volunteer service,” Baggett said.
Applications for the 2018 Summer Teen Volunteer Program will be available at usahealthsystem.com in January 2018.
© 2018 USA Health System