VA Maryland Health Care System
Youth Volunteers Recognized as Ravens’ Honor Rows
For students ages 14 to 18 wanting to volunteer at the VA Maryland Health Care System during the summer, the experience can't be an impulsive one. It represents a commitment, a 75-hour commitment to be exact, translating for the students into more community service hours than hours at the beach, parties, or other forms of recreation. Just ask Henry Wu, 17, a high school student at Friends School who first became a volunteer three years ago simply to fulfill his school's community service requirement. "I expected it to be different, and I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I do. After a year, I liked it, the patients liked it, and I thought, 'why not do more?'" says Wu whose positive experience prompted him to recruit several classmates to join him.
While many teens are busy attending summer camps, or vacationing, Wu and 60 other teens participating in the summer youth volunteer program at the VA Maryland Health Care System, dedicated their time to trying to make a difference. And now the dedication of the summer youth volunteer corps has been recognized by the Baltimore Ravens, which named them among the recipients of its 13th annual Honor Rows program.
Evan Kern, 14, a 9th grader at Bel Air High School echoes Wu when he says volunteering for the VA Maryland Health Care System at the Loch Raven VA Community Living & Rehabilitation Center and interacting with Veterans broadened his world when he was unexpectedly connected to a Veteran who had served as one of the first Navy Seals during WWII, something Kern wants to pursue when he is older. Kern and the WWII Veteran developed such a good rapport over the summer, that when Kern's summer program ended, the Veteran missed him and wanted to go home. "It's good to know that you brightened someone's day, made them smile, just by being in it,” Kern says.
Then there's Kahlid Dunton, 14, a freshman at Reservoir High School who enjoys interacting with the Veteran patients, hearing their stories, and showing them that "someone cares about their contribution to the war,” who continues his voluntary service now into the school year. "I like knowing that I am helping others, especially the Veterans, letting them know that they aren't forgotten,” says Dunton who wants to become an actor, singer or entertainer.
"This is a two-way street,” says Susan Kern, program manager for Voluntary Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System. "Students get to hear about events that are historic from the Veteran patients and Veteran patients see the future of our country in the faces of the youth,” says Kern. "They have to commit to 75 hours between June 1 and August 31st, giving them the opportunity to fulfill a civic duty, but also to make lasting memories, transformative relationships, and to learn about medical careers by seeing first-hand the many professions in health care.”
The summer youth volunteers participate in an array of activities that make a difference in the lives of Veteran patients, including but not limited to arranging movie nights and bingo games and other recreational events, baking and distributing cookies, assisting with meal distributions, serving as patient escorts, among other duties.
Wu, who aspires to be a physician, wrote an essay about his experience getting to know two WWII Veterans, one a Medal of Honor recipient, and linking their experiences to those who served in the Vietnam War."I was very moved when I read my son's essay [about his volunteer work] for his 10th grade English class. He got an A for his essay,” said Dr. Xiangrong Shao Wu, Henry's mother and a physician. "The VA Maryland Health Care System provided an excellent environment for the youth to experience and to participate in their community service. The Veterans have taught the youth volunteers how to think positive, how to work hard, and how to deal with loss and failure in life.”
The Baltimore Ravens teamed up with the Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism and M&T Bank to salute those youth who have provided outstanding community service. As 2012 Ravens Honor Rows awardees, the VA Maryland Health Care System's youth volunteers attended a November game as guests of the Ravens where they received special recognition and "Honor Rows” T-shirts.
"None of the youth corps members expected to be honored by the Ravens,” said Susan Kern. "That was not their motivation to volunteer, but it was a real special surprise for them to add to their volunteer experience memories.”