Patty Donnelly taught at a Catholic school for 30 years before retiring. She remembers one patient, a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient, who spoke no English. While teaching the girl the language, Donnelly began to wonder how St. Jude patients keep up with their schoolwork. They often miss school for weeks or months during treatment.
In January 2015, Donnelly volunteered to tutor children in the St. Jude School Program. She uses fun and interesting activities to help patients reinforce classroom lessons. She said her role helps fill in the gaps of what children may not fully understand in the classroom.
“I hope I say something that makes them want to come back to school each week; that makes them feel like they’re at a regular school; that makes them feel like they’re not different,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly previously volunteered at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend and at Ronald McDonald House serving food to patients and families; however, volunteering at the hospital is a new experience for her.
“I was sort of a blank slate in that respect, but it certainly has been rewarding in ways that I couldn’t have ever fathomed,” Donnelly said. “The fact that it isn’t sadness every day because of the staff, patients, and families’ attitudes. It’s really rewarding to be here.”
Interacting with the patients at St. Jude was not Donnelly’s first experience with cancer, as her brother died from cancer. Donnelly said by volunteering at St. Jude and tutoring in the School Program she can provide a sense of normalcy to the lives of patients and families during their time here.
“Volunteering kind of shrinks your world because you see so many people from different areas of the world working together. You see how people can handle things and work through it,” Donnelly said. “You do see some sad things, but when you see that little girl or little boy smile up at you as if nothing is wrong. It’s definitely worth it.”
Donnelly said she hopes others in the community will volunteer their time at St. Jude to support its mission.