Interacting with the community by serving has been one of the best parts of the internship so far. I did two types of community service: volunteering with physical therapists through Penrose St. Francis Hospital and helping at the Little Chapel Food Pantry. I picked these settings for different reasons, but both have led to many new connections and great experiences.
The food pantry has a smooth drive-through system in which cars entering the parking lot are directed into one of two lines that lead to the check-in tables. My job involved checking people in on the computer system and getting a signature for the number of food boxes they received. The big challenge was multitasking because I often had to remember multiple strings of numbers, ask for other information, and ask if they wanted any of the extra foods available all in a timely manner so the line didn’t get too clogged.
On my first day there, seeing the sheer number of people coming from all walks of life to get food assistance made me realize that you never know what people are going through when you see them from afar. Welcoming each car that drove up in our line was an uplifting experience because it was like inviting them to the dinner table in a way. Although, I didn’t get to chat with folks as much, I listened to the other volunteers connect with recipients and saw the community they have developed. The long-term volunteers really know these people and it was clear that for recipients, sharing their life experiences is an important part of coming to the distribution.
I wanted to promote our farmers’ market food assistance programs in addition to helping as a volunteer. I talked with the food pantry manager to get approval and came back with simple handout flyers to talk with people at the next distribution. I learned that many folks who come to the food pantry don’t have SNAP; in some cases, they weren’t sure how to apply. I also met several families with SNAP who hadn’t heard about what the market offered. I gained valuable information about the real needs people have through this promoting experience which I will use to make suggestions for our market programs and I met my goal of raising awareness of our programs.
Like handing out food, physical therapy is all about giving to people. I have been shadowing physical therapists for the last few years, so, this is not a new volunteer experience for me. Still, it never gets old because I always see something new in how the physical therapist (PT) carries out treatment or how a certain exercise helps to strengthen a patient. I volunteer with PTs partly to learn more about the field I’m going into, but also because I love meeting patients and encouraging them as they work to get back to what they love in life.
Inpatient volunteering has been the most challenging aspect so far because we often see people who aren’t on the mend and may not make a full recovery. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned not to be discouraged in those cases because the PT still makes a positive difference for each patient even though other problems persist.
I must admit that I love volunteering in the outpatient clinic the most. It’s just so uplifting to see people get stronger and reach their goals each week. I also get to help them with their exercises which has taught me how to effectively demonstrate and explain what the patient needs to do. Even when I’m just helping with small tasks in the clinic, I feel like I’m part of a positive and meaningful process.
Overall, I’ve learned so much from my community service experiences this summer. It’s moved me toward my internship goals in terms of the networking I’ve done with professional PTs and the connections I’ve made with staff at the Little Chapel Food Pantry. Talking with folks about our food assistance programs at the market took me out of my comfort zone in terms of communicating clearly and confidently with people I haven’t met, but I enjoyed the challenge. Volunteering with many PTs has continued to affirm my commitment to pursuing that career and, in the meantime, I’ve helped patients through encouragement and exercise assistance. I look forward to maintaining the relationships I’ve formed through these experiences and continuing to volunteer as much as possible.