Mention “volunteering” to most teens and you will probably receive a less than enthusiastic response. There are, however, a number of teens, for reasons ranging from school requirements to personal choice, who are involved in a variety of organizations devoted to helping others and their communities.
I am one of those who has decided to volunteer. At the end of freshman year I called my local hospital to ask about their teen volunteer program. Since it was quite popular, I was put on a waiting list (imagine - a waiting list to volunteer). By the time school started there were openings, which was great since my best friend had changed schools and we wanted to do something where we would see each other regularly. Plus, colleges love to see community service on applications!
After a four-hour orientation, my friend and I were assigned to Outpatient Escort. We were given cool ID badges, dorky shirts, and training in how to push a wheelchair. Then we were off.
Sitting behind our desk, we quickly learned the routine. When a patient was to meet with a staff member, a red light would go on above their cubicle and we would escort the patient to an empty room. That was on a smooth day. Often we would get calls from different areas of the hospital to deliver wheelchairs or pick up patients to take them to their cars. One time we spent 30 minutes looking for a patient and went in the wrong room a bunch of times. Getting confused and lost was quite typical at first, but it gave us a chance to explore the hospital.
We slowly gained confidence as we learned our way around and got to know the staff, including a nice lady at the information desk who helped us with directions, and the front desk staff who were always happy to direct us the right way.
We also started to enjoy interacting with the patients. The older, grandparent-type folks would tell us stories and jokes. I think they liked talking to us as much as we enjoyed being able to help them. Then there were cute little kids who would smile no matter why they were in the hospital. Often we had patients who spoke no English so we got to hear lots of Spanish, too.
By the time June rolled around we were feeling really good. We had learned all about the hospital, gained confidence and experience, and met loads of new people. If you are thinking about doing community service, I highly recommend volunteering at a hospital as a really cool experience.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.