Kayla Manning, 14, spent several weeks last summer working in various departments at St. Joseph Hospital on Harrodsburg Road. It was her mother's idea to have the teenager volunteer, and it turned out to be something Kayla excelled at.
The opportunity is win-win as far as her mom, Diane Manning, is concerned.
"Kayla is only in the ninth grade," she said. "This will look good on her résumé, and it allows her to get her foot in the door of a potential employer."
Kayla, who competes in the 300-meter hurdles and the long jump at Lexington Catholic High School, said she plans to volunteer again this summer, between track practices, meets and vacations.
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Kayla is one of a couple of hundred teens, ages 14 to 18, who spend some of their summer vacations exploring possible careers in and around medicine at Lexington hospitals.
Not only do those volunteer opportunities give the teens something to occupy idle hours, but volunteering gives working parents some peace of mind knowing where their children are and what they are up to.
And the hospitals benefit because the teens provide them with helping hands, which are always needed.
Kayla began working in the hospital cafeteria in the mornings and moved to the day care center in the afternoons. She also worked the front desk directing visitors, on the fourth floor fetching water or juice for patients, and she delivered mail and flowers.
"I learned how much people really enjoy having someone there to talk to," Kayla said. "They always called me Smiley."
Diane Manning said her daughter originally thought she would volunteer for a couple of weeks, but she continued for the entire summer.
"All the volunteers and employees really enjoyed her," she said.
So much so, Kayla was honored in September as one of eight Outstanding Teenage Hospital Volunteers by then-Mayor Jim Newberry.
Sixty to 130 teens volunteer at Central Baptist Hospital, University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and St. Joseph's hospitals each summer in programs that have existed for decades. The application deadline for teens at UK has passed, but adults are needed and welcome.
"I've been with St. Joseph for 11 years, and it was here when I came," volunteer coordinator Jamine Hamner said of the program.
There are three three-week volunteer sessions at St. Joseph's facilities, and teens may sign up for one or all three. The one mandatory requirement with all the hospitals is that teen volunteers show up.
"If they miss more than two sessions," Hamner said of St. Joseph's policy, "they are dismissed."
At Central Baptist, Queenia McAllister, assistant to the director of volunteer services, said the number of applicants is "off the charts. We do not lack applications," but it will continue to take more
At Central Baptist, teens wear a uniform that costs $16. At the other hospitals they don't. Each hospital has an orientation session to teach the teens about hospital policies and expectations, and they conduct interviews to narrow the number of applicants or their fields of interest.
Older, veteran volunteers are given opportunities to watch surgeries and help with more direct patient services, while younger ones perform clerical duties or work in the hospital day care.
"Girls like to work with the babies," said Hamner, "and a lot are interested in rehabilitation."
At Central Baptist volunteers work a four-hour shift, 8 a.m.-noon or noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. McAllister said there are two three-week sessions and a two-week session toward the end of the summer for five exemplary volunteers. Those five are given greater access to the workings of a hospital by the teen coordinator, including watching surgeries or babies being born.
The emergency rooms are off-limits at all the hospitals.
At St. Joseph, volunteers may work one or two three-hour shifts a day, Monday through Friday. Teen volunteers who accumulate 150 hours during the summer at St. Joseph may apply for a $1,000 s cholarship, $500 a semester, awarded each year by the hospital guild to any student interested in a health care profession.
Kayla encourages teens to give it a try.
"It's really a wonderful experience that you can't get anywhere else," she said. "If you are bored at home, do it."