Students find joy and meaning in volunteering
February 21, 2014
By Neil Pierson
For Taylor Woo, a particular memory stands out from her time working at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Woo, a Liberty High School junior, serves as a volunteer patient care liaison at the hospital, one of the largest in the Northwest. One day, she was asked to speak with an 8-year-old boy who’d been in a car accident with his parents and younger sister.
The boy was responsive, but his sister lay in coma in an adjacent bed.
“You can hear the heart monitor just beeping to her heart, and it was so hard to see,” Woo said. “It was sad how he couldn’t really comprehend what was happening with his parents.
“The nurses and the doctors were doing as best as they can, and so that’s why they called one of the volunteers,” she added. “And I was lucky enough to be the person to go up there and talk to him, and just kind of get his mind off the whole situation that’s going on.”
Woo, who dreams of a career as a physical therapist or sports physician, has been volunteering every Saturday since the start of the school year.
She became interested in volunteering last summer when she visited with Seattle Children’s representatives at an area science fair. She wanted to work there, but was told the application process was “really competitive.” Harborview was recommended as an alternative, and Woo quickly applied and was accepted.
Woo’s duties include working at an information desk, discharging patients and going on “hospitality rounds,” such as visiting an intensive care unit to check on patients’ needs.
“A lot of them just want someone that’s not a doctor or a nurse talking to them,” she said. “I talk to them a lot, which is such a great opportunity.”
Volunteerism seems to be a growing activity among Issaquah School District secondary students. Community service isn’t a graduation requirement, but many classes and extracurricular clubs at the district’s four high schools focus on it.
Issaquah High School senior Robin Lustig has multiple volunteer commitments, in addition to working two part-time jobs.
She serves as a student representative to the board of directors at Friends of Youth, a Kirkland-based support network for children in need. She’s a secretary for the Issaquah Community Network, a more hyper-local group that seeks to strengthen families through a variety of activities. And she works with an ICN sister board, the Drug Free Community Coalition, to reduce drug and alcohol usage among her peers.
Lustig referred to the school district’s 2012 Healthy Youth Survey that showed many students began using marijuana and alcohol in 10th grade.
“So, what we’re focusing on trying to do is … ‘What is the reasoning for that, and how can we stop it?’” she said. “And make people realize that even though people are using, most people are not using.
“I think that teenagers in Issaquah turn to drinking for a deeper reason than to just fit in, because although some kids drink in high school, it’s definitely not everyone,” she added.
Now in her third year with Friends of Youth, Lustig helps develop resources for kids dealing with myriad issues. Some might not have enough food at home. Others might not feel safe because their parents fight.
With the Issaquah Community Network, she works on issues surrounding substance-abuse programs, job fairs and vocational training opportunities.
She gives, but she said she also gets something in return.
“I think people kind of need to have a little push to volunteer, which isn’t a bad thing,” Lustig said. “People get inspired in different ways. I like to volunteer because I like the reactions of different people when I find out that I’ve helped them.”
Lustig hasn’t chosen a college yet, but plans to study pre-law next year.
“I really hope I can continue with community service and leadership,” she said.
Jonathan Yee is well-known around Skyline High School for his outreach efforts. The senior serves on two school-based volunteer groups — Key Club and Link Crew — and helped organize a major donation project in December for Treehouse, a Seattle-based group that targets children in foster care.
Yee said he began volunteering several years ago. While at Pine Lake Middle School, he worked with teacher Curtis Betzler’s nonprofit organization that aids needy children in South Africa.
That transitioned into joining Key Club as a Skyline freshman, which works with the Kiwanis Club of Sammamish on various service projects. Last fall, he helped develop a food drive that ended up raising 900 pounds of items for the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank.
“I think, for me, volunteering is just a way to fit with people who take the same values as yourself,” Yee said.
As a Link Crew member, Yee helps ninth-graders successfully transition to the high-school environment. Two seniors are typically paired up with about 10 freshmen, and they work with together the entire year.
He often checks in with the freshmen in his group with text messages, and the seniors made care packages for their younger peers prior to finals week.
Yee plans to attend Seattle University next year, and he’s working on a Sullivan Leadership Award that pays for four years of tuition and living expense. The award is given to students with exceptional leadership and service qualities.
“We are targeting teen homelessness, and working in Key Club … I think has really helped me know what I want to do in the future,” he said.
“We had a leadership day for finalists to come in, and hearing what other people had to say about service, I think, really opened my eyes to see what other people are doing around the world, not just in our small community itself.”