Instead of spending their summer vacation laying around doing nothing, more than 100 teens have decided to use their break as an opportunity to volunteer at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
For 17-year-old Shaw Carter, being a first-time volunteer has been very rewarding.
“I’ve spent a number of years in hospitals, so it feels great to give back to one,” said Carter, a Gainesville High School student.
“It feels even better giving back to a hospital that has been ranked No. 1 (for heart care).”
Carter, who was born with a congenital heart defect, has undergone more than a dozen operations to help improve his quality of life and so he’s spent a lot of time being a patient.
Program coordinator Brenda Jones said Carter is just one of 111 teen volunteers who represent 20 different schools and five different counties.
“We have been very excited by the response to our teen volunteer program this year,” Jones said. “We opened up the list in January and by March we had 140 names, not including the 100 kids that participated last year.”
To participate in the program, students have to be between ages 14 and 19, have passing grades and a teacher recommendation, and a record of good behavior.
It’s not uncommon for students to participate multiple times, Jones said.
“They have to work at least one four-hour shift a week, but we have some kids that would stay all day if we let them,” she said.
“It’s really neat seeing them come back — it’s nice to see how they blossom. We have a lot of participants that have gone on to become nurses, doctors and even hospital administrators.”
The teen volunteers work in 15 different areas — including the child care center, imaging center and The Rehabilitaion Institute in Gainesville and Braselton. As volunteers, the students do everything from delivering reading material to helping with patient charts.
“I didn’t realize the amount of work that goes into charts, or how much disinfecting that has to be done,” Carter said.
“They even disinfect clipboards — and there are a lot of those.”
For Ali Souther, who is volunteering for the third summer in a row, the program has uncovered hidden interests.
“I really like sitting with the patients and keeping them company,” said Souther, a North Hall High School student.
“I like getting to know them.”
As a volunteer, Souther has been immersed in the medical field. She’s gotten to interact with patients and even view a few medical procedures. In the future, she sees herself being involved in medicine — as long as it doesn’t mean being in the operating room.
“I’m too squeamish to be a surgeon,” she said.
“But I’d still like to be a doctor of some kind — maybe dealing with physical therapy.”