U Students Volunteer with Kids Crew at Primary Children’s Hospital

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Kiffer Creveling

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

 
When Kayla Mohar walks into the playroom at Primary Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), it’s not just her bright green shirt that lights up the room.
Mohar, a senior in therapeutic recreation, volunteers with the hospital’s Kids Crew, a program designed for pre-med students to get service hours. But for her, it’s more than that. She was diagnosed with diabetes as a child. Being stuck in the hospital for that time has influenced her volunteer work today, helping patients like her.
“I understand how it is to feel super lonely and being out of the bubble,” Mohar said. “I share my story with them. I can let them know that [their illness] is something that can’t stop them.”
Stella Narajowski, director of volunteer services at PCMC, oversees the service and said she is glad students like Mohar spend their time with the children there. From playing board games to reading aloud, the volunteers try to lift the spirits of the young patients.
“When a child is allowed to play, they relax, and they focus on being a kid,” Narajowski said. “That relaxation and getting their minds off of what is going on medically enhances the healing experience.”
Spending time with the kids is one objective of volunteering at PCMC, but it is also an opportunity for students to learn. The volunteers work with children, from babies to teenagers, planning activities and building relationships with hospital staff and patients.
“I love being able to use my imagination with the children,” Mohar said.
Kids Crew has been at PCMC for six years, and Narajowski said there has been noticeable improvement in the morale of the patients and the hospital during that time. She said the program offers organization that was lacking before it was created.
Narajowski compared the program to art. She said permitting children to play and have a companion reminds them they are children and helps them heal, just like doodling helps students in the classroom. For her, the program is therapeutic in the same way.
She hopes the program shows pre-med students the reality of this field. While having to place or see an IV in a child is hard, it’s actually helping them. Narajowski said this is a good introduction to the pros and cons of working in medicine.
“We found a lot of students who thought they wanted to be in the medical field, and it was really hard for them to see children [in this condition],” Narajowski said.
Knowing whether or not one can handle working with a sick child is a major factor in deciding to pursue primary care. To Narajowski, that idea is a vital to volunteering with Kids Crew. She believes the program is helpful for medical students who are unsure of what they want to do.
Fermin Suarez, a senior in biology, is one of those students. He has volunteered for two and a half years and returns just so he can enjoy the interaction with children that he hopes to continue after medical school. This is Narajowski’s favorite part of Kids Crew — when volunteers return.
She is touched by the diversity of volunteers, but she especially loves when “burly men” volunteer and have hour-long tea parties with four-year-olds. She said that is one example of the effect helping a sick child can have on the volunteer.
For Mohar, the experience of working with the children at PCMC has been as healing for herself as the patients.
She said, “You build off their strengths once you get to know them.”
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