Students give back while gaining real world experience

2013-09-08T07:30:00Z 2013-09-16T15:24:08Z Students give back while gaining real world experienceJennifer Pallay Times Correspondent
September 08, 2013 7:30 am  • 

Many teenagers are proving they can do more than just hang out and play video games all day. Whether they are interested in a civil service career, completing community service projects for school or just want to help out someone in need, teens are volunteering their time at local hospitals and fire departments.

Carolyn Meinbresse, president of the Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point Auxiliary, said the hospital has many volunteer opportunities for teens and works with area high schools to place students hoping to earn community service hours.

Prospective volunteers, who must be at least 15 years old, go through the hospital’s application process and orientation before doing a shadow type training process with a regular volunteer.

Young volunteers can work as hospital escorts, helping patients being admitted and discharged; work in the hospital gift shop; help out at the front desk, issuing visitor passes and checking in patients; deliver flowers to patient rooms; or work on clerical project like making new patient folders.

Nursing students have volunteered in the prenatal area to acclimate themselves to the hospital and what a nursing career would entail while other students have volunteered in the oncology department.

The students work four-hour shifts and have flexibility so they can come in after school or work on weekends. The hospital’s volunteer coordinator tries to accommodate what they like to do and match it with what needs to be done.

While some students just work their 40 hours required for school, others do continue to volunteer. Several students who volunteer in high school come back to help during their college breaks and in the summer. Meinbresse said they currently have two dedicated students who have logged more than 100 volunteer hours.

“We’re very fortunate here at St. Anthony that the staff is very enthusiastic about volunteers and students. I think (the teenagers) really enjoy that and helping the patients and the families. It just warms your heart after you’ve been here awhile to think that you’re actually doing something to help give back.”

She said the senior volunteers enjoy working with the young people and vice versa.

“I think sometimes the young people get the benefit of having an extra grandparent. I always think of that as kind of a side benefit.”

Anyone who wishes to help can contact the hospital at (219) 757-6347. For volunteer opportunities at other Franciscan Alliance locations, visit

Finding committed volunteers can be a challenge in the volunteer fire department world, said Rod Carringer, who has been a volunteer captain at Center Township Fire Department in LaPorte County for 40 years.While many teens are interested in hopping on a fire truck and saving lives, they don’t always realize the dedication involved.

“You have to basically meet the same criteria that a career firefighter does,” said Carringer, who is also chief marketing officer at Task Force Tips, a manufacturer of high-performance firefighting equipment.“It’s getting tougher and tougher to recruit and retain volunteers. A lot of departments that are realizing that are looking to kids to get them involved and active.”

Carringer said there are great opportunities for someone who is committed and sees civil service as a great career path.

“There are certainly agencies that are more than happy to take you in. There are a ton of opportunities. It’s a neat thing that kids can get involved in this but it’s not easy. You may find yourself up at 2 a.m. supporting a fire department.”

A lot of volunteer fire departments have a cadet program, he said. These allow a youngster, especially high school students, to get involved. Depending on the jurisdiction, teens will have different restrictions on what they can do.

Center Township Fire Department’s cadet program trains youngsters to wash fire trucks and take care of equipment, Carringer said. His department currently has about 35 volunteers, including four teenagers.

Many teens start but about 80 percent drop out after the first year. Others, like one recent member of the cadet program, just started a career at Superior Ambulance.

“It’s a great career. Most people who do it, do it because you have a love of it. If you want to get rich, there are probably other careers that are more appealing.”

Potential volunteers should be prepared to dedicate time to the department, he said, including 120 to 140 hours of training before stepping onto a fire truck.

He said young people who are interested in a firefighting or EMT career can start by contacting their local fire department or career department. Someone there will usually know about local opportunities. Other opportunities include Scouting troops, which may offer an emergency service program; the American Red Cross, which may use local youngsters as assistants in emergency situations; and Ivy Tech Community College, which offers a fire science program.

Visit for more information on the Center Township Fire Department.

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