Code 9-9-9! Code 9-9-9!
Candy striper Tamara Monroe says she shivers every time she hears that
announcement during one of her shifts at the hospital.
"That's the code for cardiac arrest," she explains. "It makes me sad. But
I guess I have to get used to that."
Serving as a candy striper or junior volunteer -- as some hospitals now
call them -- can mean witnessing life and death struggles. More often it involves
helping a patient towards health and healing.
"They go to all areas of the hospital to visit or to assist in any duties
the nursing staff have for them," says volunteer director Judie Fowlie.
"Their biggest job is assisting at the Jubilee Lodge, our extended care
unit. The residents get pretty lonely, so they go to visit and help with meals
or play chess or cards. And at Christmas time they'll write cards for them."
"A lot work in the gift shop," says Karen Stay, director of volunteer services
at a medical center. "Others work in the escort service, discharging patients
or taking specimens to different wards."
Stay says wherever there is a need, there is likely a junior volunteer
to help. "Many schools require it as a community service," she explains. "But
a lot of kids are interested in becoming nurses, doctors, or occupational
therapists, and want to know what they're getting into."
Stay says there are over 150 junior volunteers working at her hospital,
half of whom are boys. "It's really good," says one of those volunteers, Cornelius
Manning. "There are many opportunities and you get free lunch!" he says with
A recent survey of 537 U.S. hospitals by the American Society of Directors
of Volunteer Services found that students from 14 to 18 years of age make
up about one-third of the volunteer workforce. In fact, that age group regularly
contributes up to 15,000 hours of volunteer service per year!
"What makes a good teen volunteer is wanting to be one," says Frances Teatero,
a past chairperson for a hospital volunteer teen program.
"Speed up," barked the woman in the wheelchair.
Cornelius Manning was surprised. As an escort at a medical center, he had
been trained to push the wheelchairs very slowly to avoid injury to the patient.
It is also his job to put patients at ease, so he quickened his pace.
"Now you're pushing too fast!" grumbled the woman.
Fifteen-year-old Manning had a sudden insight into human nature. "It was
her problem," he says. "It didn't matter what I did, she wasn't going to be
In his two years of volunteer service, he says that has been the only unpleasant
experience he's had ushering patients in and out of the hospital.
"They always say thank you and they try to give you tips, but we can't
accept any," says Manning.
Manning wants to be a doctor. He says one of the best things about volunteering
is that he regularly sees doctors in the hospital who talk and joke with him.
"Now we're friends," he explains.
Manning is also earning volunteer credits towards a $1,500 scholarship
for college. "You have to work 200 hours and I already have 100 hours!" he
Monroe has also set her sights on a medical career. She is enrolled in
a nursing program, and she volunteers as a candy striper two hours a week.
"I find that when I go in that even if I had a really bad day, I feel better.
Everyone is so appreciative. It's just great," she says.
Monroe says it is her job to empty bedside garbages, and to talk to patients
if they need it. There are patients in the extended care unit who she visits
regularly to help with letter writing or whatever they need done.
"There's one lady I go work with all the time. I went in this week and
she had pictures that needed sending. And there's this old man, he can't talk
at all and he gets frustrated. So I go say, 'Hi,' and hold his hand. He's
Monroe says her best experience so far was the day she visited the pediatrics
ward and found a four-month-old baby who obviously wanted to play. "Lots of
times there's no parents or visitors, I don't know why, so I just played with
him and fed him!"
Twenty-year-old Christina Werlberger says feeding patients is one of her
main duties as a candy striper supervisor.
"Technically I'm still a candy striper, but because of my age I'm called
a supervisor," she explains.
Werlberger will feed as many as four patients during a two-hour shift.
Some patients can barely move.
"There's this one lady, and her eyes are open all the time and she just
looks at the ceiling. I have to tap her on the side of the mouth to tell her
it's time to eat."
Werlberger says you have to be very observant to pick up non-verbal cues
that signal when the patient is ready for more or has had enough.
"One particular lady takes a really long time to eat, and most people just
give up after 10 minutes because she won't keep it down. But I got her to
eat just from holding her hand and patting her head. The nurses were so amazed."
Werlberger says it is the chance to help people one-on-one that has kept
her coming back for four years.
"I just really like taking care of people," she says.
How to Get Involved
If you want to be a candy striper or junior volunteer, the easiest thing
to do is call your local hospital and ask for volunteer services. Most hospitals
are always looking for volunteer help. Some only 'hire' volunteers in the
spring or fall. You won't know how your hospital operates until you ask!
"When Mom and Dad call me, I know who has the interest," says volunteer
director Teatero. "If the kid calls me, I know there's genuine interest."
Most candy striper and junior volunteer programs are looking for a two-
to four-hour a week commitment from volunteers aged 14 to 18. Some programs
allow for volunteers as young as 12 and as old as 20.
As a minor, your application will likely need a signature from one of your
parents. You will be interviewed, both to determine where you would like to
work and your suitability.
You may need to provide character references. For security
reasons, some states also require you submit your fingerprints for criminal
record testing. You may also be required to pass a test for tuberculosis.
Many hospitals provide volunteers with uniforms, which range from golf
shirts, T-shirts and vests to the traditional striped pinafore. However, you
may be asked to buy your uniform. This is something you should ask about during
VolunteerMatchLearn more about volunteering
The Business ReviewGain employable skills through volunteering
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical CenterMore information from the front lines of teen volunteer programs