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Teen Volunteers Spend Vacation at Haley VA

Jul 18, 2014

When teachers ask this fall, “What did you do on your summer vacation?”  nearly four dozen Tampa teenagers will answer, “I spent it at the James A. Haley VA Hospital.”

Youth volunteer Mairyn Harris, 14, and James A. Haley VA Medical Center Director Kathleen Fogarty inside the new USO Day Room.
Credit Tessa Wiseman / WUSF Public Media

For more than a decade, Haley has been operating a summer Youth Volunteer program that gives teenagers insight into health care careers while at the same time helping veterans.

Mairyn Harris will be a ninth grader at Wharton High School this fall. She is spending five days a week this summer at Haley. Monday through Thursday, she helps with clerical work in the administrator’s office. On Sunday she comes back and volunteers with her mother in the long-term unit.

“We work in in the nursing home part with veterans taking them to church, getting them to lunch, coffee, doughnuts, that sort of thing,” Harris said.

She also helps with the pet therapy, taking care of the therapy dog, Simon.

“Well that’s our future right?” said Kathleen Fogarty, director of James A. Haley VA Medical Center. “She gets exposure to the whole gamut of the acuteness of an illness all the way to the long term care of it. She’s working in our office, so she really sees everything that could possibly happen. She’s great.”

Forgarty sees a lot of herself in Harris.

“I don’t know if Mairyn knows this, but that’s how I started my career. I was a teen volunteer a hospital in Denver Colorado. And I took care of the CEO. I answered her phones while her secretary went to lunch,” Fogarty said.

Haley’s Youth Volunteer program accepts teens ages 14 to 18 and starts recruiting in April for up to 50 positions.

Camilla Thompson, chief of Voluntary Services, said the teens are asked to volunteer from 80-100 hours, must have a TB test and go through a full day of training. They are then assigned to one of more than 20 different services at Haley, like nursing services or the recreational therapy department.

“They get an opportunity to provide like a buddy program where they read to veterans or they may get the newspaper for them or they may assist them with meal prep,” Thompson said. “They get an opportunity to interact with veterans by playing games.”

The volunteers also help take veterans on outings. Thompson said they do limit the teenagers’ exposure to veterans and service members with more severe injuries in the Spinal Cord Injury unit and Polytrauma Center.

“We really tread lightly with that and have open discussions and gain feedback from youth whether or not that’s an experience they’re comfortable with,” Thompson said.

The 47 Haley youth volunteers will finish their summer of service in August with a reception sponsored by veteran service organizations. The teens get a chance to share what they liked most about their summer vacation at Haley.