Olivia Summitt recently began volunteering at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in December 2017 as a Child Life volunteer in the Medicine Room playroom.
On a typical day, Summitt said she cleans dirty toys and displays them within easy reach of children passing by. She said some children are regulars to the playroom, which gives her a chance to connect with the child and their family.
“Occasionally, the child might play by themselves, in which case I usually talk to the parents or guardians,” Summitt said. “This provides them an opportunity to talk to someone who is not a medical staff member, so they oftentimes open up a lot, and I really enjoy listening.”
Summitt described children walking into the Medicine Room and brightening upon seeing the pirate ship, books, dolls and other toys. She said when kids see all the toys lined up, waiting to be played with, they run to the playroom.
“For me, it is a privilege to see these children, who at times experience such darkness, still have a contagious light that shines before themselves and others,” Summitt said.
Summitt recalled playing with a little girl on her birthday with a wooden birthday cake. The girl blew out the fake candles and made a wish, when a little boy playing with Legos on the floor said his birthday had been the week before. He said when he blew out the candles on his cake he wished for his sister’s hair to grow back.
“The hearts of children are so pure, and it is truly a privilege to learn from them during my time at St. Jude,” Summit said. “There is nothing more humbling than walking into St. Jude and seeing the smiling faces of these children.”
Summitt said her thoughts trail back to St. Jude when she has a bad day, and she remembers the children she plays with who did not ask to be there.
“There is nothing more humbling than walking into St. Jude and seeing the smiling faces of these children. My appreciation for the small blessings in my life has immensely increased after having spent time at St. Jude,” Summitt said.
A Memphis native, Summitt said St. Jude was always a special place, but her knowledge of the institution increased when she nannied for a couple associated with the hospital. She said it was after getting to know this couple and their children that she became aware of the uniqueness of St. Jude.
“I felt honored to live in the city that housed St. Jude, and I was ready to serve the lives of the children at St. Jude. Though cancer is relentless, it was the resilience of these children that drew me to St. Jude,” Summitt said. “I wondered how a child who was experiencing so much pain could still have a smile on their face, and I learned that St. Jude helped put that smile on their face. So, I decided I wanted to help St. Jude do that.”
Summitt said she hoped she could be an outlet for patients and families in a stressful hospital setting.
“When the children come into the playroom, I hope that they can escape from blood tests, needles, poking and prodding, into a more carefree environment where they can express themselves and do activities that don’t involve their diagnosis,” Summitt said. “I also hope I have been able to supply families with an opportunity to breathe, sit down, and watch their child smile—something they may not see very often.”
Summitt said she has learned more about herself volunteering at St. Jude than anywhere else.
“In my humble opinion, St. Jude is the most wonderful place in the world. Spending my time at St. Jude is an opportunity to learn the value of gratitude, perseverance, and hope. It is also an opportunity to learn the skills of passionate clinicians who dedicate their lives to restoring the lives of children,” Summitt said.
Summitt said her time volunteering and shadowing a clinician team at St. Jude led her to change the course of her career and begin the process to become a mental health nurse practitioner. She said this shift was due to the compassionate, holistic form of care she observed from St. Jude staff members.