This year marks 25 years for our Suncoast Hospice Teen Volunteer Program. We are proud to be the first program in the U.S. to have teens volunteer in hospice care. Longtime Suncoast Hospice volunteer Charlene Einsel helped launch it as a pilot program with 20 high school students in 1994.
“I was the coordinator for the medical magnet program at Palm Harbor University High School. We wrote a national Learn and Serve America grant, which started our program with Suncoast Hospice. Kathy Roble (retired Suncoast Hospice volunteer services director) and I were involved in the beginning of that program working with students in the medical magnet and International Baccalaureate programs,” Einsel explained.
Reflecting on the value of the program for teens and the community, she shared, “It was about expanding their worlds, having them give of themselves and having them understand how much their youth, enthusiasm and sincerity bring to the lives of the patients they touch.”
More than 500 teens are part of our program today. They bring much support, joy and comfort for patients, seniors, clients and families served by Suncoast Hospice and the other members of Empath Health. Other assistance includes events, office work, Resale Shops, baking, caroling, making blankets and other special projects. Many teens have soared above and beyond in service, gone on to earn local and national award recognition and even entered the medical field as a result of their volunteer experiences here.
“Our teens have something to celebrate and be proud of – they are part of the very first and biggest teen program in our country. We have had more than 10,000 teens since our program started. Our teens are the cream of the crop. They make a great impact on our community and planet. We want to keep them coming to us. They are our future,” shared Empath Health Volunteer Programs Manager Randi Meyer.
Sydney Richardson is a senior in the medical magnet program at Palm Harbor University High School. She keeps a busy academic, extracurricular and volunteer schedule. In 2016 she joined as a Suncoast Hospice teen volunteer and has especially enjoyed supporting our pediatric patients and their families. She has also served with a Cheer Team, Lifetime Legacies videotaping and the Teen Volunteer Leadership Board.
Helping the community enriches her life.
“I really had no idea what it was like going into it. I’m a shy person. I’ve learned from watching other volunteers who are older than me. It’s been really fun working with patients and families. Volunteering makes me feel happy and good about myself. I feel like I’m doing something good for others. It gives me fulfillment.”
She sees a future life of college, medicine and continued volunteer service.
“I want to major in biology or chemistry in a pre-med track and minor in Spanish, so I can be a bilingual physician. I want to keep volunteering, feel healthy and fit and make an impact on more people’s lives.”
Find out more about our teen volunteer program and opportunities on our website.