While most 20-year-olds usually spend their Friday afternoons relaxing after long weeks of school or hanging out with friends, Claudia Carlton chooses to spend hers with the children in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Since May of 2016, Carlton has been volunteering in the Child Life Department, which has had a huge influence on her life.
"Every single patient I have spent time with has impacted me in a different way," she says. "These kids have taught me to be grateful for the many blessings in my life and to never take anything for granted. Every day the patients fight tough battles with hopeful spirits that inspires me to put forth my best effort in everything I do."
Her desire to volunteer at St. Jude started with her parents, who are both employees at the hospital. From a young age, she was introduced to the hospital and its mission. Recently, she discovered her own passion for working with children and decided to pursue a career in Child Life.
"I thought volunteering at St. Jude would be the perfect fit to introduce myself to the hospital setting and being able to interact with patients," Carlton says.
The experience at St. Jude has only gotten better for Carlton since first deciding to volunteer.
"What I love most about volunteering at St. Jude is the positive and hopeful environment throughout the entire hospital," she says. "Often times, hospitals can be scary and intimidating, but I quickly came to realize that everything about St. Jude is different in the best way possible. I never leave my shift without a full heart."
Carlton understands how important her time is to the children of St. Jude.
"When I play and interact with the patients, they get to escape their thoughts and worries for an hour or so and just get to be kids and have fun," she says. "Since the patients I work with are inpatient, they see the same faces a lot, and I’m sure it is refreshing to play and talk with someone a little closer to their age."
The positive impact Carlton has made on the children has not gone unnoticed. She plans to continue volunteering in Child Life as well as take on a new role. Recently, the Alumni Relations director for Up 'Til Dawn, a college fundraising program for St. Jude, asked Carlton to serve as a team captain for this year's event.
"I am so glad I made the decision to volunteer here," Carlton says. "It has truly changed my life, and I am forever grateful."