Every Tuesday and Thursday over the summer, freshman Erin Wilkins sat by the 50-year-old breast cancer patient’s bed, watching TV or reading with her. Sometimes they would just talk.The woman had no other family; she looked forward to Wilkin’s company.
“She was really fun to hang out with,” Wilkins said. “At the beginning of the summer she came in. She wasn’t doing well at all, but by the end of the summer she was released from the hospital and her cancer was gone.”
These are the moments where Wilkins finds volunteering at St. Luke’s Hospital the most rewarding. During the summer, she volunteers twice a week for five hours at the hospital, doing whatever the doctors and nurses ask of her.
“You do whatever they need you to do, like greet patients that come in or help take care of newborns,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins enjoys making new friends with patients and doctors, along with acquiring volunteer work hours. Before she knew other volunteers, working at the hospital was “kind of awkward.” Since then, Wilkins has become friends with the others.
“They’re around my age, and some of them go to East too,” Wilkins said.
Although Wilkins enjoys volunteering at St. Luke’s with the other volunteers, like freshman Dara O’Connor, seeing patients go into the surgery room and never come out is the saddest part.
“Sometimes there will be a patient that I see one day, and then I come back in a week and the doctors say that they’re gone,” Wilkins said. “Someone else will be in their bed or the bed will be empty. That’s the reason the doctors and nurses tell us to not get too attached to the patients.”
Wilkins said volunteering in a hospital has made her interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, maybe as a cardiologist, neurologist or dermatologist. Volunteering at St. Luke’s has also made her appreciate her own life.
“It made me think about how fortunate I am, because sometimes people don’t have money or insurance so they can’t get surgery,” Wilkins said. “It’s just sad because seeing people that aren’t sick, sometimes I think they forget that they don’t have any sicknesses and they should be thankful for that.”
The first time sophomore Liz Gray walked into the class of four and five year olds, they were practicing their competition dance to the song “Over the Rainbow.” Although the dancing may have not been perfect, their smiles are what made Gray realize that volunteering at Access Dance was worth her Sunday afternoons.
“I remember seeing their happy faces when they were dancing, and that was definitely the best part,” Gray said.
Every Sunday, Gray, captain of the JV drill team, volunteers her time at Access Dance, assisting with three dance classes for kids with autism, Down Syndrome and other special needs. The kids, ranging from four to fourteen-years-old, are taught the fundamentals of jazz dance. Starting out by stretching in a circle, the class progresses by doing simple leaps and turns across the floor.
“It’s pretty step-by-step, but we try to use a lot of positive reinforcement, a lot of ‘good jobs’ and stuff like that,” Gray said.
Gray started assisting the classes last Oct. after being encouraged by a friend who also assists with classes and has a sister with Down Syndrome. Since then, she has become very close with the kids.
“They all know me by name and I know all them by name, so it’s nice to get to see them every week,” Gray said.
The most inspiring part for Gray is seeing how much the kids enjoy dancing and participating in dance competitions.
“Even though they have restrictions, they can still dance and be involved in something where they can be normal,” Gray said. “Just seeing how happy they are, it’s great.”
However, teaching the kids can have its challenges. While the older kids in middle school are more willing to focus, the kids in preschool and kindergarten are harder to direct.
Gray enjoys volunteering at Access Dance, especially since it’s volunteering her time to dance, something she loves.
“It’s just a nice way to get involved with something you like,” Gray said. “It’s something that I feel makes you appreciate your life and what you have.”
Junior Emily Frye remembers volunteering at Operation Breakthrough for the first time, and hearing the story of a three-year-old girl there. She had a single mom who had drug issues and worked multiple jobs to pay the bills, and Operation Breakthrough was a place where the girl could go to be in a safe environment.
“I just remember seeing the two and three year olds that already have so much in the world going against them,” Frye said. “Operation Breakthrough is their one opportunity to have that safe haven and to stay out of trouble.”
Frye started volunteering at Operation Breakthrough in fifth grade as part of the Belinder Braves Helping Hands, her school’s volunteer group. After her first trip there, Frye started volunteering with friends after school and over the summer. Instead of getting gifts for her birthday, she asked friends for school supply donations for the kids at Operation Breakthrough.
“A lot of times, the kids come from not-so-good areas of town and a lot of times the parents are working multiple shifts to provide for the kids,” Frye said. “They don’t have money to spare on childcare so they can go to Operation Breakthrough.”
Frye usually helps with the toddlers, entertaining them with games and helping with nap time. When she helps with the older kids in elementary school and middle school, she offers tutoring and homework help.
“There are employees that work there but there’s just one or two per room, and there can be up to 15 or 20 kids in each room, so it helps them,” Frye said.
For kids in high school, Operation Breakthrough offers study rooms with couches, desks and computers. There is also a recreational room with a Wii, TV and air hockey table for the teens to relax and play in.
“Even for high school kids, it’s just a place to hang out to keep them out of gang violence and things like that,” Frye said. “It’s a safe haven for them too.”
In order to volunteer without an adult, Frye underwent training two summers ago. By filling out an application and having a background check, she now volunteers occassionally after school and will volunteer once a week in the summer with some friends.
“It just kind of gives you a whole new appreciation of what we have,” Frye said. “It’s important to give back, because I know sometimes I can get caught up with things in my life.”