A ‘peek behind the curtain’ for students giving back

The first year of the Mattel Youth Ambassadors Program, which gives high school students exposure to medical careers, leadership and fundraising skills, concludes in May with a virtual award ceremony.

Nazanin Nayeri, founding member of the Mattel Youth Ambassadors
Nazanin Nayeri, founding member of the Mattel Youth Ambassadors

The inaugural year of the Mattel Youth Ambassadors Program, a volunteer program that gives high school students exposure to medical careers, leadership and fundraising skills, is nearing its end, concluding in May 2021 with a virtual award ceremony.

The program is the brainchild of college student Nazanin Nayeri, who was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma during her senior year of high school. She says it was during radiation for her cancer that she came up with the idea of giving back to adolescent patients undergoing similar treatments.

“That same night, I constructed a letter to Volunteer Services at UCLA to form a Youth Ambassador Program,” Nayeri says. After months of planning, the program was virtually launched in Spring 2020.

“Nazanin has shown incredible perseverance and maturity,” says Carey McCarthy, MPH, director of Volunteer Services at UCLA Health. “From making the proposal to all the work she’s put into it on her own time – I think it’s pretty admirable.”

Giving back to patients

The Mattel Youth Ambassadors support programs within Chase Child Life at the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, as well as the Volunteer Services Department. Funds raised support patient services such as art and activity kits, birthday celebrations, resources for children with disabilities and music programs for patients. 

Nayeri says the efforts of the student ambassadors, such as providing homemade cards for hospitalized patients, lead to an overall atmosphere in which patients feel supported and at ease.

Homemade comfort cards made by Rachel Kalt, student ambassador
Homemade cards made by Rachel Kalt, student ambassador

The program has three main components: education, leadership skill building and philanthropy. Each week, ambassadors explore various health care careers with physicians, specialists and researcher guest speakers. The students co-lead meetings, moderate the speaker sessions and create passion presentations to develop their skills.

The program was intended to include hospital volunteer opportunities such as participating in the annual Halloween event, holiday festivities and celebrations throughout National Child Life month. Due to the pandemic, patient interaction has been postponed.

“These young people have signed on, led meetings, asked great questions and have done amazingly creative fundraising projects,” says Kelli Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program. “The level of commitment has been so wonderful to see.”

Each ambassador is required to fundraise a minimum of $2,500, and McCarthy says it’s been uplifting to witness the creativity of the fundraising projects.

“One ambassador made hundreds of cinnamon rolls, some made jewelry, others helped to make masks,” she says. “Some of the ambassadors created a page on UCLA Spark, a crowdfunding platform.”

The Youth Ambassadors have this past year raised more than $50,000 for the Child Life and Volunteer Services.

In addition to fundraising, students participate in three service projects of their choosing. During the pandemic, the ambassadors made snack bags for frontline workers and tray favors for patients. Others donated blood.

Alexandria Acholonu, student ambassador
Alexandria Acholonu, student ambassador

“It’s awe-inspiring to witness their dedication and commitment to the program,” Nayeri says of her peers.

Carroll says she’s been touched by the cross-collaboration between Elaine Eastwood, manager of Volunteer Services at UCLA, her team, including Talya Katzman and Irma Lopez-Fierro, and the medical professionals who provided their time to speak with the ambassadors.

“Our medical providers have been so down to Earth and willing to share. We’re lucky to have this community,” she says.

At the awards ceremony in May, ambassadors who met the program requirements will receive a letter of recommendation, certificate of completion and service pin.

Applications for the program’s second year open on April 1. To students considering applying, Carroll says, “If you've ever been interested in the medical field, this is the perfect opportunity to get a ‘peek behind the curtain.’”

Learn more about the Mattel Youth Ambassadors program.


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