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More than 100 teens volunteer at Northeast Georgia Medical Center
Lauren Carter, left, and Helly Patel, both Gainesville High School students, do a variety of volunteer tasks from filing paperwork to bringing magazines and ice to patients. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

Every summer, dozens of area teens converge on Northeast Georgia Medical Center for an opportunity to lend a helping hand — or a couple hundred.

This year is no different.

"These are good kids," said Brenda Jones, who coordinates the teen volunteers.

"Their hearts are really in the right places."

For Lauren Carter, a rising junior at Gainesville High School, it is because of her sibling’s heart that she turned her free time into a summer of philanthropy.

"My older brother grew up with a lot of heart and health problem, so I was always in and out of hospitals," said 16-year-old Lauren.

"He actually started volunteering a few years ago, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps and help in any way that I could."

For Helly Patel, who is also 16 years old, volunteering at the hospital provides her with a glimpse into her future.

"I’ve always wanted to work at the hospital when I grow up, so this was one of the best opportunities to work here," said Helly, who will begin her junior year at Gainesville High School in the fall.

"And I really like it."

Although the students are only required to commit to volunteering for 30 hours throughout the summer, some teens like Helly, go above and beyond that.

"This is my second summer volunteering," Helly said.

"Between the two summers, I’ve (worked) about 130 hours so far."

According to Jones, more than half of the teens this summer are repeat participants — only 45 are first timers. There are some teens who are working on their fifth summer with the volunteer program.

In total, there are 106 teen volunteers this season. They represent seven different counties and 26 high schools.

In order to participate, students have to be between 14 and 19, have passing grades, a teacher recommendation and a record of good behavior.

On a typical day — or night — you can find teen volunteers helping out in the hospital’s childcare center, ICU, pediatrics department and all of the other patient floors.

"The gift shop is run totally by volunteers, so I help out there a lot," said Will Davis, a 16-year-old North Gwinnett High School student.

They deliver reading material, restock supplies and assist the nurses.

In general, the teens fill in wherever they’re needed.

"A lot of times, the nurses will have to take care of three or four patients at once," Lauren said.

"Sometimes someone may need ice or something (small), but the nurse’s priority is with another patient, so we’ll go around and help with the little things."

Although they’re completing small tasks, the teens are learning that they still have the ability to make a big impact.

"Even though it seems like doing something like paperwork doesn’t make a big difference, it really does," Helly said.

"The nurses are really busy with the patients sometimes, so doing those little things can be a big help to them.

"And it helps the patients because they’re able to get more care from the nurses."

Even though volunteering at the hospital doesn’t prohibit the teens from pursuing paying gigs, some are finding out that it does eat away at the number of lazy days they get to enjoy before school starts back.

That’s fine by them.

"The experience is really worth it," Helly said.

"Rather than spending your summer doing nothing, you’re making a difference in your community."

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