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April 11, 2019

Volunteering for U: 40 Years and Counting

By nickcarranza

“Volunteering here was life-changing for me,” says Jan Garber, who volunteered at UCLA Health 40 years ago. “I volunteered when I was 17 with a brand new program, Child Activity. It was a new concept in hospitalization for children. I now volunteer in the Child Life Program. I don’t remember as many long-term patients from back then. I think now, because of all the wonderful medical advances, the doctors can do a lot more. I remember that when I was first here, they performed the first pediatric bone marrow transplant. It was very exciting to be here and be around that kind of life-changing procedure. Now, we have a lot of kids who are here for bone marrow transplants.”

“When I come in to volunteer, I’m assigned to different rooms, and I see if they need or want anything. If a parent wants a break, I will stay with the child. I come in one day a week, whereas the last time I worked, I was doing a work-study program through my high school. I came every day after school at 12:30 pm and stayed until 6:00 pm. I was a shy kid, but I really blossomed. I would have to go into rooms and introduce myself to parents and to kids, and it took some time to get comfortable with that, but it was a great experience. I realized ‘I can do this.’ You develop relationships. I still remember some of the kids from then. When I was 17, I would hang out with other 17-year-olds. It was cool because I was hanging out with a peer.”

“I retired a few years ago and wanted to do some volunteer work, and at first returning here didn’t occur to me. My mother got sick and I was taking care of her for a while. During that time she was brought into the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica geriatrics unit, which was fabulous. She got such great care. I wanted to give back. Everyone here is so lovely, and I’m going to keep volunteering until I can’t anymore. When I first came back, it took me a while to feel comfortable volunteering again. Everything is so different. Now it’s so fun and the time passes so quickly.”

“Back then, there weren’t as many protocols we had to follow. There was no hand sanitizer outside the rooms. In the playroom, we would just straighten the room at the end of the day. Now, we clean all the toys and chairs and tables. We clean anything the kids might have touched or come into contact with. We would take the kids downstairs in beds or wheelchairs to a patio area since they didn’t have an outdoor area like they do now. There was no parent or teen lounge. They have iPads and other electronics for the kids now, which play a bigger part in keeping the kids entertained. There are also more groups that come in and do things for the kids to entertain them.”

“I was a special education teacher so I bring something different to volunteering. Some people have said to me, ‘How can you volunteer? It must be so depressing,’ but I see so many incredible, extraordinary things. I’m in awe of everyone here. The kids are so brave and strong. As a parent, my heart hurts for the parents here, but they’re so strong, kind, and appreciative. All the Child Life Specialists are awesome and make sure the kids’ lives are as normal as possible. I think there are so many problems in the world, that if I can do one little thing, it’s a good thing. It may sound trite, but I think I get a lot more than I give.”

Learn more and become a UCLA Health volunteer: www.uclahealth.org/volunteer

Tags: featured, pediatrics, Pediatrics, UCLA Health Volunteer, Volunteer, Wellness

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