Summer Youth Volunteer Program Creates Pathway for High School and College Students

Western Connecticut Health Network
Baked with Love Summer Youth Volunteers Melissa Talamo and Natasha Hoffner

DANBURY, Connecticut – August 7, 2017 - Teenagers and young adults thinking about going into careers in healthcare have had an excellent opportunity this summer to test out the waters within Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN). At Danbury, New Milford and Norwalk Hospitals, the Summer Youth Volunteer Program is designed to nurture interest for students considering careers in healthcare to gain exposure to a hospital environment, while making a contribution to the community.

One hundred and forty-four students 16-23 years of age have made an active commitment to the eight week program this summer across the Network. Volunteers have been assigned to various positions at our hospitals, Western Connecticut Medical Group offices, Ridgefield Surgical Center and outpatient physical therapy with locations in Danbury and Southbury.

Roxbury resident and college student, Claire Hagen believes volunteering in a hospital is just as important for her as it has been for the staff she assists. “My experiences have given me the drive to pursue my studies while expanding my practical knowledge. Working in the emergency department at New Milford Hospital has taught me how to better respond calmly and efficiently when things are stressful. Volunteering here has made me realize anyone can find themselves in a situation where they are dependent and need help, it is our responsibility to provide kindness that we would expect if we were the dependent one.” She added, “Being a volunteer has given me a real sense of purpose.”

“Our volunteers are not just shadowing professionals, many have been specially trained to make rounds on patients as a hospitality volunteer or bedside buddy, work side by side with physical therapists, attend staff meetings, serve as hospital ambassadors and even bake cookies for patients and their visitors, ” said Amy Faith Lionheart, Manager of Volunteer Services. She believes a simple smile and kind gesture from a volunteer can enhance the overall patient experience. “If students come to us with a keen interest in finance and accounting, or social work, we are often able to create an assignment tailored to their interests and the needs of our staff. This gives them a bird’s eye view of potential careers in the departments they work with. What better way to decide if a future in healthcare is right for them?”

Staff member, Joan King, of the Nutrition Therapy and Diabetes Self-Management Education Department, could not be more thrilled to have a student volunteer assisting within the office. “My volunteer is just awesome and such a sweetheart.” She added, “Volunteers help to enrich and enhance everything we do.” Youth volunteers can be a great asset to any organization aligned with volunteers. “So often they come to us with bright ideas and fresh ways of looking at things,” said Danbury Hospital staff member, Dana Zucchini. “Many of them have been using a computer since they were two years old and I love being able to connect with them because they are so bright.” The students typically spend two, four-hour shifts per week in two different departments so they have a robust opportunity to learn. Some students have been placed in patient centric roles while others have been placed in non-patient centric roles behind the scenes working in offices like the radiology or wound care department, or even assisting nutritionists in the dietary department.

Nancy Saad, a Danbury High School senior bakes cookies for patients and works in the emergency department as a stock person. “As a Baked with Love volunteer, I love being able to put a smile on anyone’s face, whether it is a patient, family member or staff member. Just giving them a warm home-made cookie really brightens their day. You always feel needed as a volunteer at Danbury Hospital because the people are so sweet and welcoming.” She believes visiting every Friday has really strengthened her motivation to become a pediatrician or endocrinologist one day.

“Our youth volunteers may be in their teens and early twenties, but they are such hardworking and professional individuals and we are so glad to have them,” said Raquel Rodriguez of Emergency Medical Services. Volunteers serving in Emergency Medical Services are able to assist stocking vital supplies for EMT training classes, assist with office work and even get to tour ambulances and conduct simulated operations on a hydraulic vehicle in the SIM lab.

“We need caring and compassionate physicians, nurses, geriatricians, as well as other clinical staff where there is already a shortage of people entering the field,” said Lionheart. “Dipping their toe in the water is a great way to see if this is the environment they would like to go into down the road. Over the years we have had many local students participate in our volunteer program and come back to us to work as a clinician within the hospital. ”
Cathy Frierson, senior vice president of Human Resources at WCHN, is delighted to offer students the opportunity to learn and grow as part of the extended WCHN family. “We are deeply committed to our community and our summer volunteer program helps us to extend that commitment to those eager to learn about healthcare and serve others. We work hard every day to ensure that WCHN is a great place to work. I am thrilled to know that so many students have benefitted from their time with us at WCHN. We are most appreciative of their time, hard work and dedication.”

“I remember my summer volunteer experience very well. About three years ago my grandmother and I agreed to volunteer together, so she trained to work in the gift shop and I volunteered to organize admission packets and stock linens to assist the nursing department” said Alyssa Hooper. She recently graduated from Fairfield University and passed her state boards. She is now an RN and has made her family very proud. “From the time I was a teenager, I always knew I wanted to work for Danbury Hospital and I am proud to say that my grandmother, Pat Kelly, of New Fairfield still loves her volunteer role at the gift shop.”

Volunteers play vital roles in patient care and a variety of support services that contribute to the added comfort and happiness of patients, their families and visitors. Volunteers provide an extra pair of hands and effectively supplement existing staff for non-medical services.

According to Independent Sector, a national membership organization that brings together a diverse set of nonprofits, foundations and corporations to advocate for common good, the value of volunteer time in the state of Connecticut is now $29.29 per hour. The summer youth volunteer program is part of a much broader volunteer program where volunteers contribute more than $2.5 million in added value to the Network in volunteer time annually.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities throughout Western Connecticut Health Network, please contact the Volunteer Services Department at Danbury Hospital at 203-739-7384, or visit If you are in the Norwalk area, please visit to learn about ways in which you can share your time and talents with our patients and staff.