Emory Saint Joseph's VolunTeen Program changes lives

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Sept. 10, 2014

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Mary Beth Spence
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Volunteers Nate and Kai Karamarkovich with their grandmother, Alice Malone.

This summer, 62 high school-aged teens didn’t have a typical part-time job working in the mall, bagging groceries or babysitting. Instead, they committed a minimum of 40 hours to changing lives for those in need with their participation in the VolunTeen program at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

Students from schools in Alpharetta, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, Lithonia, Cobb and other areas of Atlanta traveled to Emory Saint Joseph’s every week to participate in the program, which was established more than 35 years ago by the Saint Joseph’s Hospital Auxiliary volunteers. This was a chance for some of Atlanta’s stellar students to interact with a variety of people from nurses and physicians to patients.

After submitting an application for the program, completing a job interview and receiving training at an orientation session, the young men and women donned their scrubs and got busy learning the ins and outs of healthcare.

“This year, we had extraordinary students in our eight week program,” says Allison Hager, Director of Guest and Volunteer Services at Emory Saint Joseph’s.

“For many of these students, it was their first work experience, and they learned valuable life lessons and job skills. Some of their duties included updating information on the white boards located in patient rooms, transporting patients and assisting with the delivery of supplies all around the hospital,” she added.

Niyi Gleason

Niyi Gleason

One of those students, Niyi Gleason, has a special heart for volunteering with patients. “I lived most of my life in orphanages,” says the South America native, who was adopted by a Dunwoody, Ga. family several years ago, “and I didn’t always have people around to care for me and make me feel safe. I know that patients who are in the hospital may be scared if they are very sick or don’t know what is wrong with them. It is important for me to give them the care and attention they need,” she adds.

“These students have great compassion, and we introduced them to healthcare careers. The staff loved their energy, and they helped the nurses, doctors and other staff with many comfort measures for patients,” says Hager.

Blessed Trinity students Nate and Kai Karamarkovich were first introduced to volunteerism by their grandmother, Alice Malone, a dedicated volunteer with the Saint Joseph’s Hospital Auxiliary for the past 33 years.

“My grandmother influenced me to volunteer,” says Nate, a senior at Blessed Trinity, who worked in Admissions. Nate was a big help to staff with administrative duties, and greeting and transporting patients to various areas of the hospital for procedures. His brother Kai, a 10th grader, worked in materials management, picking up supplies for nurses, answering patient calls and delivering meals to patients in several of the hospital’s units.

Other VolunTeens, such as Sarah Parkey, were attracted to the program and the health care profession because of their own medical experiences. Parkey, a recent Alpharetta High School graduate and former gymnast, suffered several sports-related injuries and specifically asked to work in orthopaedics this summer.

Parkey’s duties revolved around making patients as comfortable as possible in their rooms, such as raising the level of their beds and relocating items to make it easier for them to move around after hip and knee replacement surgery. “I loved making the patients smile and hearing their stories,” she added.

The life-changing experience in health care is something that Gleason hopes will become permanent in her future. “I was able to experience things I never thought would be possible in my life. I loved wearing my scrubs and being a part of the team. Maybe one day I will be working here,” she says.