I started to volunteer at the Vermont Children’s Hospital at the UVM Medical Center when I was 15 years old. My mom told me I needed to volunteer or get a summer job. When I chose to volunteer I asked to be a pediatric volunteer and was told that I was young but they would allow it. I started in June and thought that it would just be a summer thing; once school started I didn’t think I would continue to volunteer. Now three years later I look back on that thought and laugh. I never expected to fall in love with volunteering.
I thought it would be hard to be around “sick” children. After the second day of volunteering I found that the children were no different from any other child I knew. Some didn’t have hair and all of them were hooked up to an IV, but that didn’t make them different to me. They were just going through different things than most children have to deal with. They were still people; they were not just children who lay in bed all the time sick like some shows make it seem. The children do love to get out of their rooms and play.
Volunteering has changed my life in many different ways. It has made me mature more than I could have ever imagined. You cannot be a child when you are trying to help one. You need to be old enough to understand how to react to different things that can happen to you with the children. Also you become attached to the children, and some of these children die. One of the girls that died while I was volunteering has been the reason that I want to become a medical researcher. She has made a drastic impact on my life; all of these children have.
There are two questions that I am always asked about volunteering. The first is, “what do you do”? I play with the children. I clean all the time (so the children don’t get each other sick). I help the Child Life Specialists. I help the families in any way I can. The second is, “how can you handle being around ‘sick’ children all the time”? To me these children aren’t any different. You need to meet them to understand this. How the world portrays most children who are in the hospital is wrong from how they really are. If you really want to understand them go up and help, become a volunteer.
Below is a poem I wrote about the volunteer experience:
My Brown Vest
My brown vest, I saw it as ugly at the beginning.
Now I see it as the kids I can’t go a week without seeing.
They have all changed my life in different ways.
Taught me things only a child could.
How to pick out the best glitter to put on a pumpkin.
They could tell you a half hour story
From one painting they made earlier.
There are good days and there are bad.
Some of my best days
I just sit in a room holding a baby
For over three hours
Or take a little girl down to get dinner.
I never thought I would get so attached to any of them.
It amazes me how happy they all are.
Most couldn’t even imagine what these kids have gone through.
They live with needles stuck all over their little bodies.
In their heads, feet, chest, and arms.
More tubes and wires than a house.
I have seen sights I wish I could forget
But I can’t.
Young children dying.
Babies that have never lived outside of those walls.
A parent should never have to see their child die.
Although on this floor you see it more than you think possible.
A 10 year old boy should not be underground.
He should be playing with friends.
He shouldn’t be watching over his mother.
His mother should be watching over him.
I have made many friends in this brown vest.
So many parents who just need a hug and someone to talk to.
Other people in the same brown vest
Who share the same thoughts as me.
Nurses who can tell who you are by the back of your head
And leave what they are doing
To cut out paper snow flakes to hang on the wall.
Now look to your left.
And look to your right.
How would you feel.
If those people were not there.
If they were on my floor.
Think for a minute.
What would you do.
While you think here is my brown vest.
I’ll lend it to you.
Olivia Bogner has been volunteering at the Vermont Children’s Hospital at the UVM Medical Center for the past two and a half years. Learn more about volunteering at the UVM Medical Center.