What used to be called the candy striper program at hospitals nationwide, has, since 2010, been known as the VolunTeen program at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital. Offered to 14- to 18-year old students, the program provides the opportunity for teens to volunteer in clinical and non-clinical areas of Owensboro Health.
The program runs from the last week of May through the end of July each summer, and this year, 57 students worked almost 3,000 volunteer hours under the supervision of Leanne Atherton, the VolunTeen team leader.
Atherton, who recently graduated from college with a business degree, was a co-leader last summer while in college. She said that the high-school aged volunteers treat the program as a job — showing up before their shift, recording their hours and choosing which department or job they will work in for the day.
“It’s mainly an opportunity for them to see what it’s like in the hospital, get their feet wet and get a feel for the hospital,” Atherton said.
This summer was the first year Owensboro High School freshman Maegan Hale and Cece Hemingway were of age to volunteer. Hale said that she learned of the program through Hemingway’s mother who learned of it on social media.
“We were the new faces,” Hale said of many of the other teens in the program who had previously volunteered. “But everyone was really nice.”
Hemingway, who helped in outpatient services, the medical offices at the hospital and the gift shop, said that she enjoyed meeting new people and that it got her out of her house two mornings a week to provide this service to others at the hospital.
“I want to be a doctor, maybe a pediatrician, so I wanted to be in the hospital,” Hemingway said. “I also learned my way around the hospital.”
Both girls volunteered eight hours a week and worked in several departments during that time and each recommend it to other teens for the summer.
“It also looks good on a resume,” Hale said.
Atherton said that the hospital staff enjoy having the help and although the teens are uneasy when they begin, they adapt quickly.
“Management really likes [the teens’] positive attitudes and outlook,” Atherton said.
In fact, Lynn Moore, the head of the Linen Department at Owensboro Health, had at least 10 of the teens volunteer each Tuesday and Thursday. She threw a pizza party for them the last day of the program to show her appreciation.
“She was super thankful for all of their help,” Atherton said.
Owensboro Health’s Manager of Marketing, Somer Wilhite, said that those that volunteered in linens would often finish refilling the floor they were working on before leaving for the day, regardless of their shift ending.
“Think about paying the teens the 2,963 hours they worked that dollar amount at minimum wage,” Wilhite said. “It’s incredible what they do.”
This year’s program officially ended last Friday, but volunteer Ely Meyer, whose grandmother also works at Owensboro Health is working until he returns to school on Aug. 15. He works an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift in Outpatient Services, running patients back and answering the phones, while his grandmother works her shift.
Another group of volunteers, Ben Sasser, Jacob Jarboe, Noelle Reynolds and January Grant all returned Wednesday to help the Emergency Department in a decontamination simulation.
“They were such a great group of kids,” Atherton said. “They are at the transformation age. They learn about the hospital and that it keeps going [around the clock], and that they are the first face people see.”
Information about the VolunTeen program and other volunteer opportunities are available on Owensboro Health’s webpage.