Teens prescribe Junior Volunteer program for summer fun

They might be walking the halls, smiling, talking in pairs or groups, carrying stacks of papers or pushing small carts. They might even be singing, or laughing -- they do that a lot! Sometimes, those same happy wanderers might have more serious faces and seem to be tackling what they might consider at the time a "mission impossible."
   The 50 Junior Volunteers at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) facilities are a happy, sincere crew. They're constantly on the move.
   The young people in MSHA's annual May-July program, according to Junior Volunteers Director Donna Stanley, might be involved for several reasons, including: They're attracted to healthcare, and even though they're young, they're not letting youth get in the way; they've discovered that giving is better than receiving; or they're exploring future possibilities in the healthcare field.
   Stanley, director of the program for three years, meets with the volunteers and their parents to explore the teens' interests. She couldn't be happier to promote her teen volunteers.
   "We use them in 33 departments at Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC) -- everywhere but surgery and intensive care," Stanley said. For the first time this year, Juniors who are at least 16 are helping out in the emergency room.
   Junior Volunteers are also placed at other MSHA facilities, including North Side Hospital, Johnson City Specialty Hospital, James H. & Cecile C. Quillen Rehabilitation Hospital and Indian Path Medical Center in Kingsport.
   Teenagers from age 14-18 are invited to join the ranks of the volunteers. They may hear of the program at their high schools, where information is posted, through friends who've volunteered before, or from their churches, parents or community centers. "We have lots of employees' children in the program," Stanley said.
   Stanley screens all Junior applicants and tells them first to "smile, be in a good mood, be professional," and remember that "niceness" is the way to "come back" at someone.
   After completing enrollment forms, teens (and parents, if they wish) are given orientation. They then select hospital areas that interest them and choose types of work they want to perform.
   "I start by telling the Junior Volunteers that we're here for them," Stanley said. (Volunteers may request being moved from or to a task if they wish). Stanley added that the most important "rule" the Junior Volunteers must understand is that all information they overhear or see is confidential. Juniors learn early, Stanley said, that if they should hear staff, doctors, nurses, patients and doctors or other discussions, what they hear must remain confidential.
   Although the Junior Volunteers do not have direct patient care -- they cannot hold drinks for the patients to sip, but they may fill the water pitchers for them -- they still are important parts of patients' recovery. Polite conversation with the patients is encouraged; Juniors might deliver messages from the patients to the nurses, or retrieve a magazine from across the room for a patient. But, whatever they do, they do it with confidentiality in mind.
   "When you breach confidentiality, you're marked for life," Stanley warns with kindness in the first meeting of potential volunteers and their parents.
   "I enjoy watching them learning, whether it's filing or learning to use a copier," Stanley said, laughing. "To watch them learn is wonderful.
   "The staff needs all the help they can get," Stanley said. Juniors file, stock cabinets with supplies, stuff packets. They're taught how to properly stoop, bend to pick up items, after which they are told to wash hands, what to do in case of fire: "Go look for it, then RACE, which stands for rescue patient, announce at the same time (Code Red), contain and extinguish -- RACE.
   "I love to watch them grow up," she added. Stanley said five teenagers returned from last year to the Junior program.
   Some volunteers work at the healthcare facilities daily; others set their volunteerism around work schedules and other activities in their busy lifestyles.
   Mark Austin is a home-schooled, 15-year-old from Watauga. As a second-year Junior Volunteer, he's counted on to the newer members of the Junior Volunteers. "I don't know what I'm going to do when he goes," Stanley said. "I've given references lots of times for these young people," for colleges and jobs.
   Mark found the Junior Volunteer program through his doctor.
   "I went for a physical and my doctor told me I could volunteer. I thought it might open doors for me," he said. "I wanted to be a surgeon, now I'd like to become an oral surgeon."
   Amanda Batts, 17, and a senior at Science Hill High School, has known that she wants "to become a physician," since she was 4 years old.
   Amanda has taken medical technology classes at Science Hill High since her first semester in high school. "Pediatrics and the emergency room" are where her interests lie, she said. She'll enroll at East Tennessee State University next year in the pre-med program.
   Amanda added, "I promised myself that after volunteering I'd look into other fields, but I'd come home so excited at what I'd learned at the hospital, it's (a medical profession) the only thing I've ever wanted." She's back for her third year as a Junior Volunteer.
   Stanley said even though the Junior Volunteer program is May-July, she accepts Juniors for orientation all year.
   "The Junior Volunteers are fascinating. Ninety-nine percent of them know what they want to do. It's amazing."
   For more information, call Donna Stanley at 431-6059.