Children’s Hospital leads City High student Carmella Brown on journey of self-discovery.

From L to R: Sherry Rectenwald, John Krysinsky, Carmella Brown and Kim Mason “She was always fantastic, always appropriate. It’s spectacular to see somebody so young who’s so passionate and so caring. She’s just top-notch.”—Kim Mason

Try becoming a volunteer at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and you’ll see how competitive it really is. Of the 300 to 400 applicants, only about 80 are accepted. As one of the top 10 pediatric hospitals in America, it’s no surprise. Which explains why City Charter High School’s Carmella Brown considers herself very fortunate.

“I was very shy before going in there,” reveals Carmella. “And they made me feel really comfortable. They helped me learn how to overcome my fears and ask for help when I needed it.” But for this hard-working and productive high school student, the internship worked hand-in-hand with the “soft skills” she was learning from the City High Post High School Planning Team. She became more outgoing and confident, honing her self-advocacy skills.

For Carmella, her Children’s internship allowed her to find that she was a natural at interacting and connecting with children of special needs, leading her to consider a new direction in Special Education.

In the Lemieux Sibling Center of the hospital, where Carmella spent a good part of her internship, manager Sherry Rectenwald said, “In Carmella’s case, you could tell that she was driven. She was motivated. That’s usually the first step with any young person you’re working with. And then, if they’re willing to learn and absorb everything, that’s where she excelled. She quickly picked everything up. We did not have to tell her something more than once… rarely any problems with taking direction. We could always count on her.” Kim Mason, another coordinator in the Lemieux center, concurred,“She was always fantastic, always appropriate. It’s spectacular to see somebody so young who’s so passionate and so caring. She’s just top-notch.”

For this once shy high school junior who had been leaning toward a career path as a medical examiner, the discovery was amazing.

During her internship, Carmella not only interacted with kids in the sibling center, she also spent time in the surgical unit, worked in patient transport, handled e-card distribution (delivering well-wishes in person to patients that come in over email) and sometimes ran the activity cart. “If they needed me to do a little project in the office, I helped with that. I took voicemails from off of the phone. I helped set up for events. I was also able to go up and sit with some patients, if they needed me to. This was fun and I got great experience,” she said.

Near the end of her internship, Carmella even showed new volunteers around so that they could get the feel for it and learn what they had to do as part of their assignment. John Krysinsky, who heads up the volunteer initiative at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, finds this program beneficial for both the student and the hospital. “Volunteering here helps students broaden their network, get to know more people,” he says. “They get the experience to see all the different aspects of what goes on in a healthcare setting. And then they can formulate some of the things they want to do in their careers. Basically, they get a feel for what they may want to do in their life.”

For Carmella, her Children’s internship allowed her to find that she was a natural at interacting and connecting with children of special needs, leading her to consider a new direction in Special Education. This self-discovery will serve her well as she plans to go to college, majoring in education with her end goal getting a master’s degree in Special Ed.

From L to R: Carmella Brown from City Charter High School with John Krysinsky, Volunteer Services Department for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

John Krysinsky, who heads up the volunteer initiative at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, finds this program beneficial for both the student and the hospital. “Volunteering here helps students broaden their network, get to know more people,” he says.

About Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

Children’s as it’s commonly referred to in Pittsburgh, is one of the top 10 pediatric hospitals in America.

Because of a shared commitment to the region, Children’s Hospital has joined forces with City High to provide valuable life lessons through an internship program at this specialty hospital. In an effort to expose young people to the workings of a health facility, UPMC offers a highly competitive volunteer program.

City High has the distinction of being the only high school that offers a full time, 13-week for-credit internship at Children’s Hospital. There, City High students get the experience to help formulate their careers.

According to John Krysinisky, Volunteer Coordinator for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, “We have a huge volunteer program, supervising as many as 1200 volunteer visits during a 12-month period. Most of our volunteers work closely with our Child Life Department. I’d say about 75% of our volunteers are Child Life volunteers.”

The Child Life Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC provides developmental, educational, social and emotional support to children of all ages ranging from birth to young adulthood. The goal is to help patients and families understand and cope with their hospital experience.

Krysinsky explains, “We place volunteers in a variety of other areas as well throughout the hospital to support the hospital mission and wherever the needs are greatest. A lot of what they do is to help provide a sense of normalcy for patients who are here… support the families; but really, provide those patients with non-clinical support. It could be anything from making bedside visits to making sure the child has activities and other things to do when there’s a lot of downtime. Providing emotional support at times. Here at Children’s, the whole purpose is to operate a support area just for siblings; then when you go upstairs to all the in-patient units, just about all the areas have some sort of activities center or playroom where volunteers help out, support the Child Life staff. They also make rounds, visit with the patients, and keep an eye on the activity centers.”


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