Hospital Summer Program Connects Teens with Patients and New Skills
They have glue on their fingers and smiles on their faces; crayons spread before them and kids crowded around them. It’s all part of a day’s work for the Volunteens of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The Volunteen Program offers a hands-on learning experience as well as opportunities for personal growth and creative fun to a select group of teenagers who give their summer vacations to work closely with patients and their families at St. Jude.
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.
“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.”
The program is divided into two, five-week sessions, one beginning in May and the other in July. During each session, Volunteens visit the hospital two days a week. To plan activities for both patients and siblings, the teams begin by perusing scrapbooks from previous summers. Each new team, in turn, leaves a scrapbook for future groups. Projects have included arts-and-crafts or game themes. Participants also help with story time for patient families or with the Happy Cart—a game distribution system on wheels for children at St. Jude.
In addition to helping patients, Volunteens develop leadership and team-building skills, improve their interpersonal skills, increase their self-awareness and interact with a diverse population of people.
As part of the program, Volunteens learn about careers in research, child life, social work and many other areas, by meeting with meet clinicians, scientists and other hospital staff.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering research and treatment of children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Ranked the No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital by Parents magazine, St. Jude is the first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children, and has treated children from all 50 states and from around the world. St. Jude has developed research protocols that helped push overall survival rates for childhood cancer from less than 20 percent when the hospital opened to almost 80 percent today. St. Jude is the national coordinating center for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. In addition to pediatric cancer research, St. Jude is also a leader in sickle cell disease research and is a globally prominent research center for influenza.
Founded in 1962 by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world, publishing more research articles than any other pediatric cancer research center in the United States. St. Jude treats more than 5,400 patients each year and is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. St. Jude is financially supported by thousands of individual donors, organizations and corporations without which the hospital’s work would not be possible. In 2010, St. Jude was ranked the most trusted charity in the nation in a public survey conducted by Harris Interactive, a highly respected international polling and research firm. For more information, go to www.stjude.org.
Kathryn Berry Carter is director of Volunteer Services at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, leading a team of volunteers who support about 25 different programs throughout the organization, including numerous patient care activities. She can offer tips on mobilizing volunteers as well as working with young adults and teenagers through volunteer opportunities.