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Volunteens share their energy and enthusiasm with St. Jude families.
They have glue on their fingers and smiles on their faces; crayons spread before them and kids crowded around them. They’re the Volunteens of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The enthusiasm these fresh-faced teenagers bring to the hospital energizes the children undergoing treatment for cancer and other catastrophic diseases.
The St. Jude Volunteens program enables teens to explore career paths and develop leadership skills while helping children. Each year, the highly competitive program seeks 30 participants between the ages of 16 and 18 with strong character and high spirits. Each applicant must write an essay as part of the stringent application process.
Volunteens visit the hospital two days a week for six weeks. To plan activities for both patients and siblings, the teams begin by perusing scrapbooks that previous cohorts of teens have created. Each new team, in turn, leaves a scrapbook for future groups. Many Volunteen projects have included arts-and-crafts or game themes. In addition, participants assist other volunteers with story time or with the Happy Cart—a game distribution system on wheels.
In addition to helping the children of St. Jude, Volunteens also explore possible career paths, develop leadership and team-building skills, improve their interpersonal skills, increase their self-awareness and interact with a diverse population of people.
“It’s more than an opportunity to give back your time,” says Kathryn Berry Carter, Volunteer Services director. “It’s a learning experience where teens learn about our mission and one day, hopefully, become more involved as donors, adult volunteers or even employees.”
Mary Greer Simonton has a special perspective on her experience in the program. She first came to St. Jude at the age of 4, suffering from rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue tumor. Years later, she returned to the hospital as a Volunteen.
“I remember there wasn’t much to do when I was here as a patient,” she says. “It’s so nice to provide such an outlet to the patients.”
As part of the program, Volunteens learn about possible career paths in research, child life, social work and many other areas. The participants meet clinicians, scientists and hospital staff who serve as role models.
“Listening to professionals share their jobs and backgrounds with us helped,” Mary Greer says. “Now that I’m in college, I’m using a lot of what I learned about organization and leadership through the Volunteens program. It was a great experience.”
If you know teens who might be interested in participating in the 2011 Volunteen program, encourage them to plan ahead. Applications generally open in January, and space is limited. For more information, visit www.stjude.org/hospitalvolunteers .
Reprinted from Promise Spring 2010